By: Mark White
“You will arise and have mercy on Zion: for this is the time to have mercy; yes, the time appointed has come for your servants love her very stones are moved with pity even for her dust.”
Are you moved with pity for her dust? Who is she? Israel, Jerusalem, the temple? Are you moved with pity, for her dust? The New Israel. Christ’s body. His Church. Are all meant to be only mere dust in the wind, as the famous song from Kansas describes. “It’s the same old song We’re just a drop of water in an endless sea, All we do just crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see, Dust in the wind, All we are is dust in the wind.”
In a sense Kansas got this right. This does speak to the appearance of things. Yes as the Church teaches on Ash Wednesday with the sign of ashes on our forehead, we are reminded that all are dust and to dust we shall return. But is this the complete story? Is there not more to the story? If all we are is dust, why would we ever echo the words of the Psalmist? Why would we ever be moved with pity even for her dust? If when we look at others and ourselves why does this song at times seem complete? Why so often do we just see dust? Why is the person in line in front of us at the store just someone who stands in our way? Or the man who cuts me off in traffic just my competitor in the game of this dusty life, an object for me to dismiss as a mere distraction.
This is where Lent comes in. Yes we admit we are dust, in a sense, but then we set out on a journey to receive the eyes of our Lord. To be able to see the dust not merely for what it appears to be, but for what it can be, because this is what it was meant to be.
When we look in the mirror do we see only dust? When we look at another seminarian, only dust? Or better yet what do we see in the eyes of the poor, the homeless, the prostitute, the sex slave, the illegal immigrant, the Muslim terrorist? Are they all mere dust swirling about in the spirit of the age?
Well in a sense they are dust. And yet all people know they are much more. We see this when people die, when, in a sense, they return to dust. The fact that we mourn death belies the fact that ultimately we are not meant for death, but that death is a curse. A curse that echoes forth from the sin of our first parents. Who heard God say to them “you are dust and to dust you shall return.” So we must know that we are dying, returning to dust. But this is not the end of the story.
So what do we do? First we must truly know ourselves. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux says, “if you are like a building without a foundation you raise not a structure but ruins. Whatever you construct outside yourself will be a pile of dust blown by the wind.”
Without true self knowledge we are tempted to see ourselves as merely dust in the wind. How can I see others as more than dust in the wind, if I am not able to look into the mirror and see more than mere dust in the wind? First I need to see this and even be moved with pity for the sense in which I am dust, the sense in which I am not as I ought to be. Only then in humility can my mind be transformed. Then God gives me the power to look beyond the dust, and see living stones in a holy temple, a royal Priesthood, a holy nation in the Lord. And while so much of the world might see themselves and others as only dust in the wind, I can be moved with the heart of my Lord, who wept over the death of His friend Lazarus, when Lazarus returned to dust, just as He weeps over us and the whole world today. His compassion allows us to see ourselves and others from the right perspective, to truly mourn compassionately the cursed dustiness of this world, with love but not indifferent to the plight of humanity. Nor without the hope of redemption.
First the Lord’s eyes can fill us with the compassion we so desperately need, compassion for a cursed and dying humanity. Our hearts then can echo the heart of our Father in heaven. Just as the Psalmist writes, “As a father pities his children so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” But though this is a compassion that weeps. It does not weep without hope, because Our Father sent His Son. The Eternal Word became dust so that we could be raised from the ashes of our dust, and so that we can know that we are more than mere dust. But first we must mourn with the Psalmist. Yes, in Christ, we can and should mourn with compassion ours and our neighbors’ dust filled lives. But let this pity, this compassion for ourselves and others, continually inspire us to point to the One, in word and deed, who seeks to renew and reform all people into the living stones of the temple of His Body.
About the Author: Mark White
Mark is in Second Theology at Notre Dame Seminary. He is studying for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
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