The beginning of Lent, a season of renewal and conversion, was marked by students at the University of Texas at San Antonio with an Ash Wednesday Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, on March 6.
“Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” the archbishop told the young adults fathered in the Retama Room in the Student Center. “We come to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. We come to remember that we are dust, and to dust we will return. It seem a very morbid kind of thought, I know. But these ashes today are actually a symbol of hope and freedom.”
He explained that in the Christian West during the Middle Ages, a certain phrase became very popular — first in monasteries, and then throughout the church. This phrase in Latin is, “Memento Mori.” Which means, “Remember death” or “Remember that you will die.”
“Again, this doesn’t seem like a very happy thing to remember, especially if we are looking through the eyes of the world,” acknowledged Archbishop Gustavo. “We are terrified of death in the world. We don’t like to talk about it. But for us Christians, death is no reason to be scared. This is why the monks used to greet each other with that phrase, ‘Memento Mori.’ It is the same thing we do today. We put ashes on our foreheads to remember that we will die. We do not do this to depress ourselves or to be morbid. No, we do it to remind ourselves of the truth of our lives. We are not here to live some earthly life that starts, ends, and that’s it. We are here to show the world the life that really matters. This is a life lived for the glory of God and for the love of our sisters and brothers.”
The archbishop emphasized that if we remember that we are dust, and to dust we will return, we can be less distracted by the things of the world. “We do not have to worry about saving up huge amounts of money. It is not as important to be powerful or influential as the world sees it. A big house in a fancy neighborhood will not be where we spend eternity.”
He urged the attendees to remember “Memento Mori.” “This is not something to make us sad. It is something that reminds us of what is important,” stressed the Missionary of the Holy Spirit. “It keeps us from being like the hypocrites who do things just for the attention of the world. This way of living sets us free.”
The San Antonio prelate described the season of Lent as a time to fast, give alms, and pray to draw closer to the Lord, adding that while Lent is certainly one of penance, it is definitely one of joy, as Jesus conquered sin and death and his victory is our own.
In the Gospel reading for Ask Wednesday, the Lord tells us: “Anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting.” “Our internal preparations help us to show to the world that this is not all there is. There is a whole life beyond this one,” Archbishop Gustavo exclaimed. “It is true that we will die, but it is also true that in Christ Jesus we might truly live!”
The archbishop called on listeners — the dust who God has called to be his own people – to allow their Lenten practices to proclaim the Gospel with all their hearts and lives, again repeating the phrase: “Memento Mori.”
“You are dust, and to dust you will return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” he concluded. “Be people who live for the true life that lasts forever.”
Before the Mass concluded, Father Jason Martini, administrator of the St. Anthony Catholic Student Center, invited attendees to take part in Lenten activities, such as liturgies, Stations of the Cross, and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, at their facility at 14523 Roadrunner Way.
Photo: Veronica Markland for Today’s Catholic Newspaper