In Ictu Oculi (In the Twinkling of an Eye), Juan de Valdés Leal 1650
It may feel like this weekend marks a time of Mardi Gras and celebrations, but with all that we have been through from the unending displays of human dignity being destroyed by people in politics and authority, to the vile things that are being revealed within the Church, I don’t want a fake reason to run out and Mardi Gras just because Lent is coming. Perhaps the painting, In Ictu Oculi, may seem like a strange way to kick off this week, but it’s hard not to appreciate what the painting expresses. In Ictu Oculi is one of a pair of dramatically chilling commissioned pieces by a hospital in Seville that depicts the rotting corpses of a bishop and a knight (church and government), both lying in repose in a crypt, and surrounded by the trappings of money and position. The painting is an allegory of death, or memento mori (remember to die), intended to remind the viewer of both the transience of earthly life and the universality of death…that we are meant for something greater-eternal life in Christ.
Every time we gather together for Mass, we focus on one thing: the Paschal Mystery. This means we focus on the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Remembering this, we become more like Him in our own daily living, our own daily dying, our own daily rising which will be fully realized at the end of our time and the end of all time. Lent is a time for us to die to ourselves and rise with Him momento mori – remember death. St. Francis of Assisi called death a sister and welcomed her willingly into his life. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati said, “The day of my death, will be the happiest day of my life.” Only because of Jesus Christ, death does not have to be something feared. It is a reality that entered the Garden of Eden and is cultivated in our lives. Death, while it is about loss, is also for Christians, about gaining everything.
This Wednesday we will be marked with blessed ashes. Why? To remember our origins, to remember as children of Adam and Eve, we too are mere ash and dirt. The words we hear will be “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” These are words that are spoken again over all of us at the Rite of Committal prayed over our casket at the grave in the cemetery. However, the ash/dirt of our origin is cr eated, animated, and sustained by the very breath of God (in Greek, RUAH). Our culture and society is more and more of the mindset that we are independent of this reality, that we are independent of God and God’s breath within us. Issues of our times are approached on the false conception that we are our own independent god: we don’t need parents or family, we don’t need meaningful friendships, we don’t need Church or faith, we don’t need Mass or Sacraments, we don’t need God – I only need me. When we remove the Breath of the One, True God from our lives, when the relationship with the Creator is refused or dismissed, it is then that we return to dirt/ashes. Often times this is experienced as “something is missing,” or “I have no purpose in life.” Feelings of anger, cynicism, and frustration arise. People grow numb to the inner voice of The Father’s invitation and call, and they simply settle for something superficial instead of the deep water in which Jesus calls us to cast the nets of our hearts. Death … a sister? Death … a friend? Yes, even when there are tears and unanswered questions. The Paschal Mystery reminds us…Lent promises us that Jesus Christ conquers death! I know it’s a daring ask this year, but can you appreciate the amazing love that The Father has for us to embrace this life with every breath and day we are given, and to not fear what Lent asks of us, momento mori – remember your death. She is a sister, a friend, a teacher calling us to claim our dependence on the One who brings us to life. Our God scooped up dirt and dust and breathed His very breath into it to give us our identity, our personality, our soul, our blood, our flesh and bone…God created us in His own image to live forever with Him. May the creating, redeeming, and saving Father be made manifest in your lives this Lent. May the Paschal Mystery of the Father’s son, Jesus, animate your daily living, your daily dying, and your daily rising to new life. May we feel the breath of their love as their Spirit leads us into Lent to make ready for us the Paschal time of Easter. See You On Wednesday, Fr. Bline
(N.B. Are you helping with our Memorare Center and parish repair fundraising effort? Because of it, we have installed new Church lighting. By next weekend, the lighting will be balanced and beautiful. Thank You Masters Electric.)