Growing up poor
I grew up in a very remote rural hamlet of Vietnam called Tu Bong. Our day to day living is like what you see in a film depicting the 1800s. We used oil lamps and candles for light, we used the river that ran through our hamlet for bathroom purposes, we used a well for drinking water, we brushed our teeth with salt, and there were many other things I recall that tend to surprise people who I’ve encountered here in the United States.
Among these very simplistic and “archaic” ways of life, I remember two the most. I remember making cars out of clay, drying them, and then hauling them around with my friends. And I also remember getting to start the fire everyday so my mom and cook dinner. These were my two favorite activities as a child before we moved here to America.
Now when I say that I got to start the fires, I mean to say that for me that was one of the best things I got to do all day! How many little boys do you know who do not love to play with fire? I certainly loved fire (and still do, just ask my friends), and everything about it. However, starting the fire and playing with it while it is still flaming is always so much more entertaining and interesting than watching it burn out and turn into ashes.
So what does this have to do with Ash Wednesday?
When I was younger, anything I found went into the fire and they all burned (eventually). The very same case is true these days, minus the few things that I know would smell terribly if I burned them. Some burned brighter than others, some burned longer than others, some burn out almost instantly, but all of them end up being ash at the end of it all.
On Ash Wednesday, the Christian is called to remember that he is made from dust and to dust he shall return. As Christians, we are called to live our lives in holiness so that others may witness it so they may turn to Christ, the source of all that is holy.
So on this day, we are all reminded that we are like all things that burn: that no matter our length of life, our age, our race, our genders, our vocations, we will all end up dying and having to face our God like all those things that I set aflame. Yet, despite our ending up in death, we can still choose to live our lives differently, which will either bring Christ to the world or shield the world from Him.
Some of us will choose to live our faith like a log set aflame, a fire magnificently bright that burns for a long time, while some of us will live our faith like a piece of paper set aflame, a fire burning brightly, but short-lived because our faith is only dependent on the feel-good moments that God can provide for us. Some of us will choose to live our faith like the steady burning charcoals that are never really on flame nor burned out, a monotonous burn that bores even the most excited pyromaniac.
So Ash Wednesday calls us to mind the fragility of our human conditions and along with it our very own call to holiness.
Ave Maria, ora pro nobis!