You Are Dust

By on in

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

At first glance, these sound like angry, unpastoral, and harsh words.  I would also submit that they are words we secretly long to hear.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t like being reminded I wasn’t in charge, but I was also secretly glad to know that I wasn’t in charge. I couldn’t wait to get to college…until I was actually at college.

In a similar way Pope Benedict helped give voice to something that I’ve since realized as well – we WANT to know we are not gods.  Lots of companies and commercials are telling us we are gods of our own little universes, and this strokes our ego and feels good for a time. But when something challenging shakes our self-constructed universe, and we realize we are actually quite powerless, the image of ourselves as gods of our universes comes crashing down, and it is a very painful and disorienting process to experience.

We’ve all been in situations where everyone around us thought we were in control, thought we knew what we were doing, thought we were competent in a subject that we knew nothing about…and it is terrifying. Sometimes our inexperience, our lack of competence, our lack of control is exposed, and while that exposure is embarrassing, it ultimately is a relief. We breathe easy when we give up the charade of a false persona or false competence.

To be told that we are dust is hard to hear but also healthy to hear.

And so God, who loves us too much to let us get into the dangerous habit of viewing ourselves as divinity, will, on Ash Wednesday, through the Church, yet again speak to us a truth that is hard to hear, but a truth that we secretly long to hear.  Having ashes roughly smeared on our heads is humbling and can be perceived as God, the alpha male, reestablishing his dominance over us … or we can see today for what it is: God telling us exactly what we need to hear and what we, if we’re honest, really WANT to hear.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Fr. John Hollowell

About Fr. John Hollowell

Fr. John Hollowell is a Priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and was ordained in 2009. He served as a chaplain at Cardinal Ritter High School and the parochial vicar at St. Malachy Catholic Church until July 2012. He is currently administrator at Annunciation Catholic Church in Brazil, IN and provides sacramental assistance to Sacred Heart Church in Terre Haute, IN. He blogs at