Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. It was the start of 40 days of fasting and penance in the lead up to Easter.
Catholics will well know that on Ash Wednesday they receive the ashes of last year’s blessed palms signed in the shape of a cross on the foreheads. While the priest does this, he says:
“Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris”
That’s Latin for “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”
I love language and Latin is certainly one that should be studied. It explains so much about our own English words. For instance, the word pulverise literally means to destroy something so thoroughly that only dust remains.
All of us will be pulverised one day. It does not matter how well we tend or care for our bodies today, tomorrow they will be gone. Lent is an opportunity for each of us to reflect on that sad truth. But it is also an opportunity to understand a higher and more hopeful truth as well. While each of us will suffer death, there is a life that follows. A more important life.
How we experience that life will depend upon how we live the one we have today. Sin, forgiveness, charity and good works are the inputs that determine the outcome of that next life. The stakes are serious. That God would become man and allow Himself to be crucified for our sins shows how dramatically serious the consequences of our actions are. Our sins wrought death. But God also used that moment to show His power over both death and sin.
The crucifixion and resurrection are the greatest and grandest gestures of forgiveness and love possible. As with all great and grand gestures, there are consequences when they are rejected. The punishment will fit the crime: the loss of that which was on offer. Forgiveness, love and its source, God, will be forever gone. The worst aspect of Hell is not the physical pain. It is an acute knowledge of the loss suffered and an everlasting, miserable self-obsession, fuelled by an inability to seek forgiveness or to find relief from the unending pangs of conscience. In His goodness, God has provided physical pain to distract the mind from this most terrible, self-inflicted torture.
And while Lent allows us to consider Hell, it also is a time to remember that there is forgiveness if we choose to accept it. No matter how great our sins (and all of us carry the guilt and shame of some form of sin), there is hope and love. God is so great that no matter our past, He can work greater goodness through us in our future. All we have to do is offer ourselves to Him and accept the truth of His teaching. It is a truly thrilling thought.
Catholics use Lent as a time of voluntary suffering to gain control over our bodies and to order our souls. In all forms of life, discipline, skill and expertise are gained through punishment and subjugation of the senses. They are not won through carefree pleasure but by practise. Removing vice and obtaining virtue is no different. We must practise if we want to gain Heaven and avoid Hell.
Lent is also a time to show charity towards others.
Many readers have outlined their concern for Lieutenant Colonel McGregor, and I also accept that he suffers from a profound personal crisis. While I do not support his actions, I understand that they are driven by a serious internal suffering that cannot be enjoyable or easy to deal with. I cannot know why he faced this crisis and I did not, nor can I presume to pretend that I would have ‘done things better’.
I also accept that my words have been harsh. They have been for good reason: they are dealing with a serious issue that involves a public and fundamental attack on the dignity of men and women, as well as Australia’s security. My words have been a response to a public, emotional and irrational form of self-obsession that undermines our society, culture and civilisation, all of which are based on our Christian heritage. I certainly make no apologies for defending this heritage. It is worth defending. So, while I can understand why Lieutenant Colonel McGregor can find my criticism is unwanted, it does not mean that my criticism is unwarranted.
Furthermore, there are things that have been said and done that require rectification to ensure that justice is satisfied. I am losing my commission because I do not support the public attack on morality and order that has been championed by Lieutenant Colonel McGregor. Members of my family have suffered from his unprovoked public attacks against their name and reputation. The Catholic Church has suffered by his public example and, more importantly, by the support give to it by the supposedly Catholic Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.
However, I am happy to put on the public record that I do not wish Lieutenant Colonel McGregor any ill-will. On the contrary, I hope that he finds true happiness and I would love to see him be the talented and brilliant man that he could be. There is no doubt that Lieutenant Colonel McGregor has many fine qualities that are being sadly stunted or twisted by his current approach to life. And, more importantly than the battle here and now about the composition of our Defence Force, there is a battle under way for my soul and for Lieutenant Colonel McGregor’s soul as well.
Lieutenant Colonel McGregor was raised a Catholic and he well knows that our bodies will return to dust and that we will be called to give an account for our actions.
Therefore, over the next 40 days, I will be praying for that most perfect woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to watch over both of us. I will be asking Our Lady to intercede with her son, Jesus Christ, to help both Lieutenant Colonel McGregor and myself became the men that He made us to be. And I encourage all readers who wish to join in this Lenten crusade to do so as well. I also hope that Lieutenant Colonel McGregor will pray that the Blessed Virgin watch over both of us as well. I need prayers just as much as he does.
Who knows? Perhaps one day we could say the rosary together. I certainly would be more than happy to do so.
UPDATE: Peter Forde from OzUnited has provided an insightful analysis of Prime Minister Abbott’s decision to endorse Lieutenant Colonel McGregor here. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister is in need of many prayers as well.