Remember Man, Thou Art Dust: A Last-Minute Lenten Guide for a Chaotic World

The world’s long Lent continues unabated but our liturgical season only begins today. If Ash Wednesday has snuck up on you, you are certainly not alone. However, it is not too late for you to plan a holy Lent. In fact, you can start strong right at this moment.

Our Lenten journey will start with ashes and fasting. You will hear some version of Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverterisRemember man, thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return. Immediately, we are reminded of two stark realities: sin and death.

The words of Ash Wednesday echo God’s condemnation of Adam. Genesis records how the Lord “formed the man out of the dust of the ground” (Gen. 2:7) and then later was man cursed with the Lord declaring “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19) By Adam’s sin, death has become our inheritance. However, St. Paul proclaims, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:22)

The first step in our Lenten journey is a confrontation with the reality of sin and death. That seems especially apt, given the news of the world. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to over half a million refugees fleeing into nearby nations. With the international response, the world now faces the threat of nuclear war. As we begin our Lenten journey at this crucial time, we look beyond the sin and death of this world to the King of Peace Himself, whose death and resurrection bring us to a new life, free from sin.

Even if you’ve waited until now to start your Lenten preparations, you can still make it a holy journey. Here’s some resources and tips.

1. Fasting

Along with our traditional fast, Pope Francis declared this Ash Wednesday to be a day of fasting for peace. Fasting can mean different things. The USCCB offers these norms: “When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.”

There are of course more strict fasts, such as in the Byzantine Church. Our brothers and sisters in the Ukrainian Catholic Church would normally observe such a fast and you can certainly join them. It’s best to seek out spiritual guidance on fasting, but if you can forgo meat and dairy it is not an impossible fast. As well, if you forgot to fast today then you can still take an opportunity to observe fasting each Friday (and perhaps Wednesday) throughout Lent.

Here’s some helpful articles from CE on fasting:

You can also find some great Lenten recipes in beautiful The Lenten Cookbook.

2. Prayer

Lent is the perfect time to increase your time in prayer. From this day on, try to add a little more time into your day for silence and prayer. If you can’t think of a place to start, the Church gives us the powerful prayers of the Rosary.

At Fatima, Mary called us to “Pray the Rosary every day in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” If you need a helpful rosary meditation, you have a great one here in Fr. Looney’s article. And as we ask for Mary to bring about peace, we can also ask for the intercession of St. Michael, who is the patron saint of Kyiv.

Here are some helpful resources from CE:

Finally, a beautiful prayer aid is found in Fulton Sheen’s Wartime Prayer Book and Praying with Jesus and Faustina During Lent.

3. Almsgiving

Of course, Lent is a time when we truly practice the corporal works of mercy. Your almsgiving may take many forms and does not always have to be monetary. Many people need the comfort of a meal, warmer clothes, or just a visit from a kind soul. If you look to just your own town and neighborhood, you will find ways to give and be an answer to somebody’s prayer.

Ideally, your time of abstinence and fasting should free up some money to give. There are certainly local charities and missions you can give to and your parish is a great place to start. If you can also give to help relieve the ongoing humanitarian crisis surrounding Ukraine, you can give to Caritas International or Catholic Relief Services, each of whom has people on the ground giving aid. You are also likely to find local charities who need help, such as the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Philadelphia who are raising funds for Ukraine.

Some helpful articles on almsgiving:

4. Spiritual Reading

It might be too late to order a hardbound book and a Lenten retreat. However, spiritual reading is an invaluable companion to the Christian life. You can find many resources here on Catholic Exchange, and the lives of the saints is a fine place to start. We also publish a daily saint’s biography, which you can get in your inbox each morning. If you don’t mind waiting or using an ebook, the finest book for Lent is Bishop Bossuet’s Mediations for Lent.

As holy week and Easter quickly approach, these are some great books for the remaining days of Lent:

Of course, you are not going through Lent alone. The saints, your guardian angel, and numerous fellow Christians are joining you the great adventure of Lent. Attend Mass and prayer as often as you can and support your fellow Catholics in their own Lenten journey. No matter how you began today, you have 40 days to make your Lent a blessed one.

Photo by Thays Orrico on Unsplash

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Michael J. Lichens is the former editor of Catholic Exchange, whose writing has appeared in both Catholic and mainstream sources. With an M.A. from the University of Chicago of Divinity School, Michael spends much of his days editing, writing, and researching great works in Catholic literature and also shares a passion for the overlooked moments in faith. You can track his love of ossuaries and saints at or here on CE.

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