Homily by Paulist Father James DiLuzio

Fire, smoke and ash were part of the Earth’s beginnings.  Each made their contribution to the atmosphere and to the land.  Volcanic ash contains various amounts of soil nutrients that eventually allowed the plants to grow.[i]  So from the beginning, ashes represented death but also life, the end of life and the beginning of something new. The message of death to life is primeval in the very heart of nature and in the first tribes of human beings. Initially,  of course, the first impression is that of death alone.  Mourners rolled themselves on the earth to show solidarity with the dead buried beneath them. In early Judaism ashes had two connotations:  grieving the dead and nothingness –the inconsequential realities of all things human in contrast the greatness and glory of God. To these time and experience embossed additional meaning upon ashes:  mortification due to guilt tied to remorse for sins committed. 

All of these understandings echo through our Ash Wednesday rituals for there is nothing so sobering, so humbling, so freeing as recognizing death as the common denominator for all human persons – the great, the small, the powerful, the powerless, the rich, the poor, the healthy, the sick. Ashes insist we ask the questions “why are we here?” and “what do we believe?”  Do we embrace all the aspects of ashes—the grieving, the repentance, the cosmic realities that death does indeed give way new life?  Jesus assured us that “blessed are those who mourn” and that repentance is the only proper mindset to appreciate the full weight of God’s mercy, to appropriate the forgiveness that flows freely from a God of unconditional love—REPENTANCE that not only indicates sorrow for the harm we have brought upon ourselves from our thoughts, words and deeds but the harm our words and actions and inactions bring upon others but, in the best sense, REPENTANCE means CHANGE OF HEART, CHANGE OF MIND, THE WAY WE THINK, THE WAY WE LIVE.  JESUS by taking on the fullness of humanity INSISTS WE LIVE AS HE LIVED, THINK AS HE THOUGHT, becoming his eyes and ears, his mind and vision, his words and actions for all people in our lives and in our world.  For today– as it will be in the future–all people—believers and nonbelievers– need tangible reassurance that faith matters, that patience, kindness and forgiveness are earthly realities that reveal heavenly realities. 

In these ashes we die to FEAR and are RAISED to that YOU and I -with no exceptions—are INDEED the MANIFESTATIONS, the INCARNATIONS of GOD IS WITH US and  THROUGH US BECAUSE OF THE ONE WHO LOVES US and came to be ONE WITH US ON EARTH, guiding us onto eternal life.   Yes, today, we die again to the fear that we are not unconditionally loved and RISE to the Courage to BE CHRIST for others and with others.

Are we ready to come “down to earth” as Jesus did?  To BE humble, ever-conscious of the preciousness of life, our lives, thankful for WHO we are and WHAT we are, THANKFUL FOR A LIVING FAITH that sees our sins and failures all within a bigger vision:  that without humility, power is evil, without sobriety,  passions become addictions, without knowledge of and commitment toward THE INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF ALL THINGS–all peoples with peoples, with nature, with God through a cosmic communion,  faith is shallow, life is wasted.  Yes, at times we do  belong on an ash heap but NEVER FEAR:   the Holy Spirit cultivates the SPIRITUAL NUTRIENTS IN US to make faith alive, our lives “ALIVE” and worth living and dying for—because from the beginning, God declared all this –life, death, repentance, dying and rising BAPTIZED IN JESUS, CONFIRMED IN JESUS, IN COMMUNION WITH JESUS OFFERING COMMUNION, PATIENCE, FORGIVENESS, NEW WAYS OF LIVING TO THE WORLD –YES, GOD SAID THIS WAS GOOD.  SO VERY, VERY GOOD. WELCOME TO LENT!  

[i] SOIL ENRICHMENT:  Volcanic eruptions result in ash being dispersed over wide areas around the eruption site. And depending on the chemistry of the magma from which it erupted, this ash will be contain varying amounts of soil nutrients. While the most abundant elements in magma are silica and oxygen, eruptions also result in the release of water, carbon dioxide (CO²), sulfur dioxide (SO²), hydrogen sulfide (H²S), and hydrogen chloride (HCl), amongst others.   Taken from:

Other Sources:

online Jewish Encyclopedia:


Indian beliefs.  Agni was the ancient Indian God of Fire, believed to be the deity to cleanse and purify the body of sins.  The Romans adapted this God’s name in the Latin word ignis,  for fire.  And how we derived the present word ignite.

So, as the Catholics believe………”Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust”……….all is connected, and everything returns to its source.

All religion has common links


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