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Ash Wednesday has arrived, and its focus is singular: to remind us of the necessity of the Cross, in all its dimensions.
No Cross, no salvation. Or as Ven. Abp. Fulton Sheen used to put it, "There can be no Easter Sunday without first a Good Friday."
A focal point of Lent has always been what the Church calls the Four Last Things — originally in Greek "eschaton." There is a whole field of understanding dedicated to the Four Last Things. It's called eschatology.
What are the Four Last Things? Death, judgment, Heaven and Hell. And by "Last," Holy Mother Church proposes to us that there is nothing else after them. We will each die, undergo judgment and go to Heaven or Hell. And that will be that. Game over.
Now, on Ash Wednesday in parishes and dioceses where the reality of the eschaton is taken seriously, when the ashes are administered, you are likely to hear "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust you shall return." That is a very focused statement coming from your Mother to snap you to, even if brusquely.
In parishes and dioceses where the eschaton isn't really paid attention to because we have a reasonable hope that all men are saved, and dying is just passing over and judgment is no big deal and Hell doesn't really exist for anyone except Genghis Khan and Hitler, you are much more likely to hear the watered down "Repent and believe the Good News." Yay! It's so fun — Catholic lollipop land.
What that sad-sack expression of theology fails to make very clear is the sober message that death is stalking you and ready to snatch you up to the judgment throne of God. Every day, 150,000 people on earth leave earth forever — 100 souls a minute. How many will stand before their God ill-equipped and unprepared to face the divine justice?
And what is justice? It's not God being a big meanie like the Church of Nice crowd likes to portray that authentic Catholicism portrays it. That is a straw-man characterization of what the Church teaches. Holy Mother Church simply states that God will give a man what he deserves; that's what justice is.
The killer gets the chair; the speeder gets a fine. It would be unjust to treat them the same, because they aren't. Likewise, the living saint gets Heaven, the mortally sinful man gets Hell. Again, it would be unjust that they get treated the same because they aren't. And Sacred Scripture says, implies, indicates and flat out states in many various passages: You get what you deserve based on your actions.
One glaring line: "and I will repay each man according to his deeds." So much for the dumb, uninformed notion on the part of many Protestants that once they pronounce on the name of the Lord Jesus, they are saved. They must have missed out on the day the class went over inconvenient Bible passages which say "Just because you say Lord, Lord does not mean you will enter My Father's House" (Matthew 7:21).
The reason the Church says "Remember you are dust and unto dust you will return" is to snap you to attention. If there wasn't some big deal about dying — because the judgment awaits immediately after it — then there wouldn't really be that big of a deal about dying, nor the requisite need to be warned about it.
See, the Church of Nice is very uncomfortable about Ash Wednesday. It's why they changed the words. "Believe the Good News" is much easier to emotionally and psychologically cope with than "You're going to die and you'd better be ready or you're going to be damned." And the Church of Nice is all about emotion and psychology, dontcha' know?
Heaven is the reward, what we are owed, in a sense — the sense being that Our Blessed Lord has promised it. "If you love Me, you will keep My Commandments, and My Father and I will come to you, and We will make our home in you" (John 14:23).
The first pope warns us explicitly to be on the lookout for Satan, "a roaring lion prowling about looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Be on your watch, therefore. Do not spend your Lent in some Church of Nice coma. For some of us, it will be our last Lent.
As a quick aside, if you haven't already, please take a look at our Lenten Showcase. It's a 40-day lenten calendar of Church Militant Premium programs to help you spiritually focus during your lenten journey. There's even an e-mail list you can join to get daily lenten reminders sent to your inbox.
If Satan is trying to devour you, then the least you can do is put up some resistance — literally for the Love of God, Who made you to be with Him — not to be cat food for the diabolical lion.
Every minute, more than a hundred souls are brought to the judgment seat of Almighty God. How many do you suppose every minute now are in a state of grace, meaning not being in a state of mortal sin?
Is the drug dealer who gets shot in a drug deal gone bad?
How about the cheating wife killed in a car accident coming back from her rendezvous?
What about the priest who dies of a heart attack after giving counsel he knows contradicts Church teaching?
What about the abortionist content to pad his bank account with blood money, or the Catholic pro-abort politician who keeps conditions legal for him to continue in business?
What about the bishop who suffers an aneurysm after having spent 16 years allowing heresy and heterodoxy to spread throughout his diocese?
What about the young turk in the hookup culture crowd who is killed by some random event?
What about the chancery official covering up scandal and damaging souls?
We are given lists of people in Sacred Scripture who will never see God in the face: cowards, liars, murderers, sorcerers, etc. Does anyone in their right mind really think for one minute that, with more than a hundred people dying every single minute, thousands dying an hour, every hour, 150,000 dying daily, every day, that all these people are going to Heaven?
The Church of Nice does — or rather, they simply don't let the discussion come up. They deflect. Well, the point of Lent is to prevent the deflection and get down to reality. I am going to die. You are going to die. The only question is: who first?
Lent is to remind us of death, so we can have eternal life.
Death, judgment, Heaven, Hell — nothing else matters. Embrace the Cross.