What must it be like to lose one’s house in an all-consuming, raging bushfire? To see one’s life’s efforts being reduced to ashes. Everything in a house has a story, and for so many of our sisters and brothers every item was incinerated. So were other possessions, like cars and tractors; so were means of livelihood, like mobs of sheep and herds of cattle, or workshops and beehives; so was the beauty of wildlife and flora; imagine the terror of animals and reptiles.
Ashes are, for Australians, a very real symbol of devastation. Our recent fire storms add symbolism to our Lent. We remind ourselves that we are dust, and unto dust we shall return. But we know that the fires and what they did are not the last word; we will start again if we work together. Hope based on faith will drive good people to build again. Nature and wildlife will grow again out of the desolation. A most powerful lesson, surely, is that we need to learn the lessons about care for our common home, planet earth, as Pope Francis keeps insisting.
Lent and Holy Week teach us each year to start again. There is a symbolism in the Holy Fire, on the Easter Vigil. Fire should be lit by the striking of a flint, perhaps not so practical these days (though a cigarette lighter uses flint). The message of the Church’s liturgy is powerful; from the deadest of material, an inert piece of flint, a spark is struck, light comes from dark, fire comes from nothing.
The spark of the Resurrection arises from the ashes of death. What is inert is changed into a source of light and warmth, dispelling the darkness of the mortal destruction that death weighs down upon us. Death becomes not an extinction, but the moment of truth, a gateway to the fullness of life. This is our faith, this is what Jesus taught us and gave us.
So for those for whom life has become ashes, new hope is given, a promise of life to the full. To those drifting in life the Resurrection of Jesus shows there is purpose in my life, that what I do in life means something, that there is a love that transforms all ash into joy. God so loved us He sent His only Son. I am precious; I am loved beyond all compare, Christ died and rose for me. Rejoice now, all you Saints of Heaven. Christ is Risen.
Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ
Archdiocese of Adelaide
Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese
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