heading from this dust to reach that dust; the more we seem to move away from it,
the closer we get to it. The step that distances us, its very self, approaches us;
that day which makes life, is the same that undoes it. It is like the wheel that,
at the same time, turns and spins around, always grinding us, we are always dust.”
Father António Vieira
With the phrase, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return,” and with the imposition of ashes and the sign of the cross, we begin the journey of 40 days that precedes and prepares us for Easter. A time of determined conversion to give our lives the right direction. In Genesis it is said, “the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life” (2:7). This passage reminds us that without the divine breath of God the dust of the earth remains just that, the dust of the earth. Without God or apart from God, we are barely dust!
As Pope Francis tells us, “The small mark of ash, which we will receive, is a subtle yet real reminder that of the many things occupying our thoughts, that we chase after and worry about every day, nothing will remain. No matter how hard we work, we will take no wealth with us from this life. Earthly realities fade away like dust in the wind. Possessions are temporary, power passes, success wanes. The culture of appearance prevalent today, which persuades us to live for passing things, is a great deception. It is like a blaze: once ended, only ash remains. Lent is the time to free ourselves from the illusion of chasing after dust. Lent is for rediscovering that we are created for the inextinguishable flame, not for ashes that immediately disappear; for God, not for the world; for the eternity of heaven, not for earthly deceit; for the freedom of the children of God, not for slavery to things” (Homily, 6 March 2019).
Humility is an essential virtue for truly living Lent. The term humility is derived from the same etymological root as humus and man; humility appears as the key that opens for us the way of Love. We are speaking about a humility that not only makes us recognize who we are and who we should be, where we are and where we should go, what we do and what we should do, but also that moves our gaze from ourselves to seek the One who walks with us and in us, and is always ready to support us when we turn to Him. “…under the ashes of humility, in the Spirit of Our Lord” (CCD:VIII:202), we find the path to understanding if we live by fire or by ash. Only the fire of love saves!
To make this journey of prayer and conversion, I propose an examination of conscience, in the form of questions, which, I think, can be useful for all of us, Vincentian missionaries:
1. “Contemplatives in action and apostles in prayer” (cf. C 42) – Fundamental option for the poor.
Is the option for the poor rooted in all my actions and in all my choices? Does this option fulfill me? Do I seek the poor, find out where they are, and go to meet them? Am I looking for a way to justify my lack of real contact with the poor? Do I try to reflect on the new forms of poverty that exist today and do I minister in accord with the example of Saint Vincent de Paul who, following the spirit of Christ, ministered on the fringes of society of his time? Are the poorest, the most disadvantaged, the those most in need of hearing Good News my main concern when I make decisions in my life, in my group, in my association, in my congregation? When I am called to evangelize, do I take refuge in the proclamation of the Good News, relegating to others concrete service? Or, on the contrary, do I focus my ministry on works, taking refuge in MY thousands of activities and forgetting that I am a mere instrument in the hands of God and that everything was given to me to bring people to glorify God (see Matthew 5:16)? Do I get lost in discussions and endless meetings conversing about power, wealth, and recognition, or do I spend my life serving God in the poor?
2. Aware of the reality that surrounds me.
What is my presence in the world around me? Is it a superficial presence or do I commit myself concretely to promoting a more just world, both from a material and value point of view? Do the world’s problems mobilize me only when they touch me directly? Do I discuss and study with others how to change the world and people? Do I implement possible solutions to solve problems the I encounter? Do I evaluate my attitudes and embrace new answers, if necessary? Do I commit myself to defending human rights, working directly with associations or movements that promote peace and justice?
3. At the school of the poor.
Are the poor a true and constant school of evangelization for me or have I missed some lessons? Are the poor an artificial and relative reality, so no one is poor enough to make me “get off the couch”? Or can I find forms of poverty in all people that justify my “constant work” with the poor? Do I live poverty? To offer better help, to understand them better, I have to experience their difficulties. How can I endure the conditions of the poor? Do I accept the conditions of the mission that I am involved in? Do I adapt to the place where I am, using the means at my disposal? Do I live like those I serve in order to help them, or do I shock (perhaps even scandalize) others by my way of life? Do the groups, movements, parishes, associations of which I am a member, and who call themselves Vincentians, have the poor at their center as their charism? Do I recognize myself as poor before God by offering God my whole life, the life of all those I serve and the lives of all those who have no one to pray for them or to be close to them?