‘‘You Are Nothing, You Are Dust’’– Most Rev. Matthew K. Gyamfi
The Episcopal Chairman of the Catholic University College of Ghana, Most Rev. Matthew K. Gyamfi, Bishop of the Sunyani Diocese celebrated the Opening Mass which coincided with Ash Wednesday with the University community on the 13th February, 2013 – The Opening Mass which Non – Catholics are invited to join in the celebration is organised by the University for the community to get together to seek God’s guidance for the new semester. This is to encourage interfaith dialogue and religious encounter among students and staff of the University.
In his homily, the Bishop asked the community to use the period of Lent to ponder over the question, ‘‘who am I’’? He admonished the community to remember that they are dust and into dust they shall return. He said, ‘‘Today this is precisely what God reminds you that you are: ‘‘You are dust’’. Ash Wednesday and the whole of the season of Lent are to urge you to accept experience and endure the dust you are. Like the dust you are a common place; you are ordinary no matter what you think you are. You are a speck in the universe. You are one of the uncounted billions who have blown about this planet. If a handful of people see you as different - as powerful, intelligent, rich voice, beautiful, as the Igwe or how important you think you are, remember that billions of others have never heard your name. And if they did hear it, they could not care less.’’
The Electoral Commission of the Students Representative Council was sworn into office after the Mass. The Bishop urged them to do their work diligently and with all integrity. He asked them to be fair in all their dealings and to advise themselves with the fallout from the country’s general election.
The Mass was attended by the University Community – students and staff (academic and non – academic) the PaxRomana Choir and some friends of the Bishop from Germany.
BELOW IS A TRANSCRIPT OF THE HOMILY
‘‘Ash Wednesday and indeed the whole season of lent is supposed to compel us to break the monotony of our daily schedules, to stop living our lives as we have been doing and to ask ourselves a basic existential question - who am I? Where do I come from? What am I doing here on earth? What is the meaning of my life? Who am I?
Today's liturgy gives you a very humbling but also encouraging' answer. For after this reflection, the priest, using ashes, will trace the sign of the cross on your forehead. In doing so he answers your question "who am I" by saying ‘‘You are dust and into dust you shall return". He will call your names in silence--James, Philip, Angela, Josephine, Excellency, John Mahama, Nana AkuffoAddo or whatever your name maybe or whoever you think yourself to be. "You are dust and into dust you shall return". In this year of faith, the symbol of dust and the formula stem from Genesis. God's judgment on humanity after His first human images have rejected Him: God then said "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken" (Gen 3:19). Abraham "the father of multitude of nations" (Gen 17:4), pleads with the Lord for Sodom (an ancient city whose inhabitants were completely destroyed for same sex relationships) from the stance of Adam: I am but dust and ashes (Gen 18:27) .
But when God compares us to dust, the comparison is not flattering at all.
In the past month and even now, your experience with the harmattan and the associated invasive ubiquitous fine dust should help you appreciate what it means to be referred to as dust. Dust is something that is a nuisance; it is something that is nothing. With his uncommon insight, Karl Rahner, one of the best theologians of our modern times observed that:" Dust...is the image of the common place. There is always more than enough of it. One fleck is as good as the next. Dust is the symbol of anonymity: one fleck is like the next, and all are nameless. It is a symbol of indifference: What does it matter whether it is this dust or that dust? It is all the same. Dust is the symbol of nothingness: because it lies around so loosely, it is easily stirred up, it blows around blindly, is stepped upon and crushed-and nobody notices. It is a nothing that is just enough to be-a nothing. Dust is a symbol of coming to nothing. It has no content, no form, no shape; it blows away, the empty, .indifferent, colorless, aimless, unstable booty of senseless change, to be found everywhere and nowhere at home." Today this is precisely what God reminds you that you are:‘‘You are dust’’. Ash Wednesday and the whole of the season of lent are to urge you to accept, experience and endure the dust you are. Like the dust you are a common place; you are ordinary no matter what you think you are. You are a speck in the universe. You are one of the uncounted billions who have blown about this planet. If a handful of people see you as different - as powerful, intelligent, rich voice, beautiful, as the Igwe or how important you think you are, remember that billions of others have never heard your name. And if they did hear it, they could not care less.
Because you are dust each day try to experience your dust. What we resist persists but what we accept we are able to transform. Yes Lent and Ash Wednesday reminds you that you are creature of sin; not sinning always but blowing hot and cold, dreadfully small, wrapped in you selfishness, greed, licentiousness, pride, better – than – thou, more – important – than thou etc. In this attitude, you are desperately far from the God. You ought to love above life itself. Consequently, many of us are anxious, so perplexed; often adrift like the dust we cannot capture. Is it any wonder that, for all too many despair is just around the corner?
But in Jesus who has come to save you from the wretchedness of sin, you are more than the dust that makes you up. For when the priest dusts your forehead, he dusts it with another symbol: the sign of the cross. And that symbol declares that the dust we are has been redeemed--Redeemed not in some shadowy sense but with startling realism.
The sign of the cross the priest makes on our forehead tells us that, in taking flesh, the son of God became dust; that apart from sin his dust was the same as ours. His dust was as short-lived, as fleeting, as ours. For a few brief years his feet scuffed the dust of Palestine; his sweat bloodied the dust of Gethsemane; and by his death he joined ours in the dust of death. When God's son became the dust we are, and nailed it to the cross, God's judgment "You are Dust" was transformed. I do not mean that you cease to be dust. You will always be men and women of flesh and blood. You can expect to experience in every fiber of your being the anguish and tears, the daily dying, the sense of nothingness that fragile dust can never quite escape. On Calvary the Son of God blessed the dust we are with honor and glory.
Your dust is literary electric with God's own life; your nothingness is filled with God's eternity; your nothingness had God's own shape. With this new shape, the sentence, "You are dust and to dust you will return" ought no longer terrify us. We no longer have to despair at our ceaseless downward movement to death. Of course we shall die: and I, for one, am not anxious to die-I love this life with passion that is perhaps unchristian. But the sign of the cross cries to us that death is not the end of our dust (Rm. 8:11). Lent is therefore a season for tears and for laughter. It is a dying and a rising. Not simply at the end of your days. On the one hand, you must journey to Jerusalem with Jesus. It is a journey that mingles gladness and sadness, satisfaction and frustration, high hopes and sometimes near despair. On the other hand you walk that dusty journey with Jesus and you walk it as risen Christians. You do not wait for Easter to rise with Christ. You do not wait for your very last death. You have risen from the moment you were baptized in Christ Jesus. You have risen! Live it. For your Lenten penance therefore, force yourself to come alive – alive in Christ. Focus on those twin symbols-dust and the cross. When you leave this chapel to continue your journey to Jerusalem, wear those symbols with awareness, with pride, with hope, with love. Even when the dust disappears, remember the reality: Remember, man/woman, remember that you are dust – dust redeemed by a cross.’’