Et non dabo vos ultra opprobrium in gentibus

Msgr. Carlo Maria Viganò


Homily for Ash Wednesday,
in capite Jejunii

Immutemur habitu, in cinere et cilicio:
jejunemus, et ploremus ante Dominum:
quia multum misericors est dimittere peccata nostra
Deus noster. 

Joel 2:13


Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris. We heard these words spoken a few moments ago, during the rite of the imposition of ashes: Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. As we prepare to enter the sacred penitential season of Lent in preparation for Passiontide and Most Holy Easter, it is certainly salutary to remind ourselves of where we have come from and what awaits us. 

We come from the dust, with which the Creator deigned to shape our bodies in which to infuse an immortal soul, making us in His image and likeness. Destined for eternal bliss, with sin we returned to the dust of exile. Condemned to the loss of immortality, we mixed the sweat of our brow with the dust of the clod. Called in Abraham to the promised land, we crossed the desert in the dust. It was in the dust tha the Forerunner preached, and in the dust of the rocks the Lord was tempted by Satan. Our innumerable sins humbled Our Saviour Jesus Christ amid the dust of Golgotha. Our mortal body will dissolve into dust after burial, awaiting the resurrection of the flesh at the end of time. The world will be consumed in dust, when the eternal Judge will come judicare sæculum per ignem. The ancient monuments are dust, the documents of the sages are dust, and all their precious fabrics are dust.

And for our consolation, the dwellings of the wicked shall one day crumble to dust, and their possessions, their money, and their idols shall be scattered to dust. Like hay they will soon wither, they will fall like grass in the meadow (Ps 36:2); for the wicked shall be cut off, but he that hopeth in the Lord shall possess the earth. A little while longer, and the wicked shall disappear, you shall seek his place and no longer find him (Ps 36:9-10). Their infernal plans, their plans for domination, their agendas, and their “great reset” will dissolve into dust. They too will die, while their dream of immortality and open defiance of Christ will crash before that capital punishment which no child of Adam can escape. The tomb will also open for them, and with it their particular Judgment and their just condemnation.

In the face of this destiny of dust that inexorably awaits everyone, we must carry imprinted in our minds that Cross which for a few hours we will have marked on our foreheads with ashes, causa proferendæ humilitatis (Bened. Cinerum, 2a Oratio); because the Cross alone is our only hope – spes unica – in the dissolution of ephemeral things. Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis. But in order to love the Cross, in order to understand its inevitability and necessity if we want to be saved, it is necessary to understand – within the limits of our human frailty – what an ineffable miracle of Charity moved the Most Holy Trinity – the Triune Supreme God – to decree that the eternal Word of the Father should become incarnate, suffer and die in order to redeem sinful humanity in Adam. Deus caritas est (1 Jn 4:8). The miracle of divine Charity that consumes the sins of men in the flames of the most pure love of the immolated Son, and makes reparation for their infinite offense by sacrificing God to God, sacrificing the Son for the sins of the servant, and even goes so far as to make Himself truly present in the Most August Sacrament of the Altar until the end of time so that the creature may be nourished by the Creator, so that the slave may feed on his own Deliverer. Caritas ejus in nobis consummata est (1 Jn 4:12).

The magnificence of God shines forth in the creative work of the Father, who calls us into existence out of nothing; in the redemptive work of the Son, who restores on the Cross the divine order broken by sin; and in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, who pours into souls the infinite merits of Redemption through Grace. And in this divine splendor, every creature is created in a unique and unrepeatable way: there is no vein of a single leaf that is the same as another, and no two human beings are identical. Similarly, each soul is redeemed in an entirely unique way, and in a completely unique way is touched by Grace. The Most Holy Trinity – precisely because Almighty God – has a personal relationship with every soul, from the moment it is thought of and willed and loved. The Father does not create series of things. The Son does not redeem indistinct masses. The Paraclete does not sanctify by chance. It is always a personal, individual relationship, unique for the thousand ways that the Lord chooses to accompany us, admonish us, encourage us, and reward us, or – God forbid! – punish us. Each of us knows well how many infidelities we have to reproach ourselves with, and how many times God’s mercy has lifted us up de stercore and helped us to progress in His love.

But just as the creative, redemptive, and sanctifying action of the Most Holy Trinity is manifested in a different and unique way for each one of us, so also our relationship with God is personal and unique – which obviously does not exclude the mediation of the Church – in responding and corresponding to the Lord’s will. 

This means that the good deeds we perform, the sacrifices we accept, the penances and fasts we undertake, and the prayers we recite rise before the Divine Majesty with our name written on them, so to speak. Dirigatur, Domine, oratio mea sicut incensum in conspectu tuo; elevatio manuum mearum sacrificium vespertinum (Ps 140:2). And that name, known only to the Omniscience of God, remains there even when those good works are placed in the Treasury of Graces together with the infinite merits of Our Lord and those of all the Saints from which Providence draws. This is a great consolation, because it makes each of us truly unique in God’s plan. But for the same reason, our faults, our sins, are also individual and unique: “Play the prophet, Christ! Who is it who struck you?” (Mt 26:68). Each one of our sins – let us meditate on it often, especially during this season of Lent – is a spit in the Face of Christ, a blow of a reed that plunges the thorns of the crown into His Head. Each of our sins is a whip that tears His flesh, a blow of the scourge that rips it open, a blow of a hammer in the palms of His hands, a spear that wounds His side. And those blows, those slaps, those spittings have our name written on them, as do the sharp arrows with which we pierce the Immaculate Heart of His Most Holy Mother, mystically united to the Passion of the Son.

But if present events and the infernal attack of the Enemy see us engaged in an exhausting war that too often distracts us from prayer, recollection, and penance, during this sacred season of Lent we are called to exercise the spirit – as in a training of the soul – to strengthen it in the love of God, in union with His Passion and in flight from sin.

Thus, just as a soldier engages in those disciplines in which he will later find himself fighting, so the faithful, who are soldiers of Christ, cannot effectively face the spiritual combat without first having trained themselves in the struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The prayer placed at the end of the imposition of ashes uses a clearly military terminology: Concede nobis, Domine, præsidia militiæ christianæ sanctis inchoare jejuniis: ut, contra spiritales nequitias pugnaturi, continentiæ muniamur auxilio. And if in the daily battle we have to take sides mainly against external enemies, during Lent our first enemy is ourselves, starting with our dominant defect: because the weapons that the Lord puts at our disposal must find us capable of wielding them, while too often we believe that we can enter the battlefield relying on our own strength.

Immutemur habitu, in cinere et cilicio. Let us change our behavior; let us reform our conduct in sackcloth and ashes, that is, keeping our eternal destiny firmly in mind, and with it the transience of the things of this world. Let us change the perspective from which we observe events, considering that all our actions, good and bad, do not remain nameless, nor without reward or punishment. We cannot take society, the Hierarchy, our rulers, the subversives of the New World Order, the traitors, the wicked, or the lukewarm as pretexts for our own indolence, trying to justify our conduct or to escape from the ashes and sackcloth, that is, from the spirit of penance and renunciation of the things of this world which is the only place we can be trained for humility and holiness. Non declines cor meum in verba malitiæ, ad excusandas excusationes in peccatis (Ps 140:4). 

Because God’s Judgment is personal, and the merit of our actions is individual: may the iniquities of others therefore spur us on to remedy, repair, and expiate, rather than becoming an alibi we hide behind. Emendemus in melius: let us make reparation for the evil committed in our ignorance so that, when we are suddenly seized by the day of death, we do not look in vain for time to repent when it will not be possible for us to find it. (Impositio Cinerum, Responsorium).

Let us look to the Most Blessed Virgin, chosen by the Most Holy Trinity to be the living tabernacle of God Incarnate: Her blessed Fiat – personal and formulated in the silence of interiority – made our Redemption possible. May it be our daily model of obedience to the Lord’s will – and especially in this propitious time of fasting and penance. And so may it be.


+ Carlo Maria, Archbishop

February 14, 2024
Feria IV Cinerum