6 March, 2019

‘Remember that you are dust…’ ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’

~ from the Catholic liturgy of Ash Wednesday ~

I have always been attracted to the formulations used during the distribution of the ashes on Ash Wednesday. Both the more traditional “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” (which I personally prefer) and “Repent and believe in the Gospel” remind us of our limitation. We are creatures with a ‘sell-by’ date, we are not gods. Our actions are limited by our mortality and, as the second formula reminds us, by our tendency to sin and our need for repentance.


Such an observation, made as Christians begin the Lenten season, should not be a source of sadness for us. Rather we should be joyful that we have the opportunity to remember, to count our blessings and note our failings with a view to turn again to God.


This year, the twenty-fifth anniversary of South Africa’s transition – from Apartheid and injustice to full democracy and a society rooted in human rights – let us take time out to assess how far we have come and how far we need to go, to fulfil God’s justice in our country. As we look back to 1994, we must look forward to the 2019 elections and ask: what must we – what must I – do to make democracy’s promise a reality for all our citizens?


Let us remember not only the faults and failings of our new democracy, but also its successes. Let us consider our successes and failures in this context and consider how we can help in our own ways to make democracy work, knowing that we are ourselves limited (dust) and that what we need is a group effort to help make God’s justice live in our country.


In our reflections, let us balance the plea of the prophet Joel: “make not your heritage a reproach” (Joel 2:17) with Paul’s confident claim “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor:6.2).


May these ashes of remembrance and repentance this day remind us, Lord, of those gone before us who contributed to our freedom. As we look at the ashes on each other, may we be reminded of our duty to our neighbour and to future generations whose freedom we hold in trust. Amen.


Catholic Parliamentary

Liaison Office

Jesuit Institute
South Africa

Reflection prepared by and

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

See more from Anthony Egan SJ
Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
See more from Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Click to subscribe to: