“Let us pray to set the world ablaze…”

Almost a year ago, we began the Easter season with a roaring fire at the door of the Church – we re-lived the creation of the universe, and it exploded into hundreds of points of light: small, bright candles that were held by every one in the church. We sang: “Christ Our Light, thanks be to God.” And we were made new.

Now, it is a year later.

And what we are left with…is ashes.

So for this one day we will bear that mark — the remnants of a great blaze, the residue of a fiery faith that maybe has cooled, that isn’t as strong as it could be.

And for this day, we will let others see this mark, as a sign of repentance, and humility, and humanity. Maybe, as the day goes on, we will forget about it, and suddenly catch sight of ourselves in the bathroom mirror, and realize, with a shock:

We are dust. And to dust we will return.

And we will see others like us on the street and think: we have plenty of company.

Ultimately, that is all we are in this earthly life: dust. But we dream to be more. We know we can be more. And so we make this 40-day journey – joining Jesus in the desert – to strive to be better than what we are, and become what we hope to be.To become more than dust – to become, in fact, light. Burning, brilliant light.

And so we join the psalmist and sing:

“Be merciful Lord, for we have sinned.”

We rend our hearts.

And we begin this long walk into the wilderness.

Because we are dust. And to dust we will return.

We wear this mark, if only for this day, as a reflection of where we came from, and where we are all destined to go.

But we are reminded of something else, too: it is the middle that matters.

It is that lifetime stretching in between that matters.

What will we do with that time? How will we live? What will we be?

These 40 days are a blessed opportunity to carry those questions in our hearts – and in answering them, reconcile ourselves with one another, and with God.

Hundreds of years ago, St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.”

This day, look at the ashes.

But think of the fire.

And let us pray, this Lent, to set the world ablaze.

–From Ash Wednesday Homily, 2009


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  1. Beautiful reflection, Deacon. It is beautiful to read; it would be moving to hear the spoken word. No podcasts?

  2. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    These are older homilies from a few years ago and weren’t recorded.

    I will try to record a new homily that I deliver tomorrow.

  3. I have to tell you, Deacon, I read this homily to my mother and her words were, “How extraordinary! I can visually see what he writes.”

    My mother does not have internet or tv. She is 83 years young. I share with her many of the writings on this Catholic blog and others. We live 3000 miles apart, but I faithfully talk with her every day, sometimes several times a day. You made her day as mine. Thank you!

  4. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Thank YOU :-)

  5. Deacon, I agree completely with Amy. Having just lost my wife, the meaning for me this Ash Wednesday hold special meaning.

    Each morning, I wake up and hear these words

    “And we begin this long walk into the wilderness. Because we are dust. And to dust we will return.”

    Is it right for me to pray that the return to dust comes soon?

    As I thought about a post you made about different sermons for different masses. When I hear a sermon, it can go on for some time, but I try to open my heart to allow the words to speak to me and most often, at some point, a word or phrase that the speaker may not even have thought much about races into my heart and where I am on the journey that day. If one stays close to the gospel our wonderful Church has assigned for that mass, I find that it is taken over by Christ speaking to us in some way. You have an amazing talent and I thank you for putting it to work for God. Certainly in my humble view much more worthwhile than CBS but that gets into political views. Just wanted to say thanks again.

  6. Katie Angel says:

    As we enter this prayerful season, I wanted to reach out and tell you that I understand your desire to return to dust. When I lost my beloved husband and soul-mate in 2009, that was my most fervent wish as well – but I have come to understand that God left me here for a reason and it is my responsiblity to Him to live that reason the best I can. I know how hard it can be to rise in the morning and face another day without your love beside you – know that you will be especially in my prayers this Lenten season. We may not always agree on some of the issues facing the Church but my heart and my love go out to you in this most painful time.

    Kathleen Pope Bingaman (forever Mrs. George Christman Bingaman IV in my heart)

  7. We burned our palms Tuesday night in our RCIA for ashes for the next day.

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