by Colleen Kelly, Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Joel 2:12-18 | 2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2 | Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Ash WednesdayBy the evening of September 11th, 2001, my mother had called several times asking me to go to Manhattan to search for my brother Bill. Unbeknownst to our family, Bill had attended a one-day breakfast conference at Windows on the World—the famous restaurant situated in the North Tower of the World Trade Centers. Every family that day wanted to believe that by some stroke of fate, its loved one was not inside the burning buildings. Our family was no different.

Nearing midnight, a friend and I went by subway to Grand Central Station. We then began the long, sorrowful walk from hospital to hospital asking for news of survivors. Each emergency room nurse told us the same thing—any survivors had been brought in earlier that morning. There was no further news.

The streets of Manhattan were deserted. Giant trash trucks had been parked in the middle of the avenues, presumably to thwart any new type of street terror attack. Police cars and ambulances with flashing lights were the sole moving vehicles. The only people on the city streets were either other family members, also searching for news of a missing loved one, or people who were homeless, in cardboard encampments and seemingly as shocked as the rest of the nation.

What I remember most about that night is the ash and dust. Particles were floating in the air all around Manhattan. The dust stung my eyes. The ash tasted metallic in my mouth. Breathing in felt funny. I wasn’t fully aware of the ashes and dust at first. Every moment of that day held its own unique shock and trauma, all of Ash Wednesday which took time to sift through.

But by the beginning of Lent 2002, the ashes and dust of September 11th had become enormously important. All my life I had heard the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Like never before, this phrase now held powerful meaning. In remembering the ashes and dust, I was remembering my brother. He was now a part of me, in my very being. Bill’s body has never been found, and this uncertainty weighs heavy. But our faith tells us that Bill’s body is not what is most important. His body is ashes. It is dust. Bill’s spirit however, and the Easter promise of resurrection and new life, live on.

In remembering that I will return to dust, how do I keep hope for new life?

This reflection was written by Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Colleen Kelly. It is included in this year’s Lenten reflection booklet, From Ashes to Resurrection, Dust to New Life, and available as a download for purchase from the Pax Christi USA website.

11 thoughts on “LENT 2012: Reflection for Ash Wednesday, February 22

  1. It is a sad but beautiful story. I would like to send her a copy of my just published book, I’M SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS….HOPE AND GUIDANCE IN MANAGING YOUR GRIEF. It will soon be available on My name is Lillian L. Meyers and I am a bereaved mother and sibling. In my book I quote a lot of people but one of my favorites is from St. John Chrysstom: “They whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.”

  2. It’s heartwarming to hear your story and it also brings meaning to the ashes of Lent. I must remember that I will return to dust but in the meantime I must use my gifts of the Spirit to bring about change in me and then to bring happiness to others. Thank you.

    1. Sister Jacqueline Leblanc,
      Your name sounds familiar. Is Gerard Leblanc/ Jacques Leblanc / Herard Leblanc, some of your relatives ? I am building a family tree on the site
      You can simply go there and build your own tree. Feel free to let me know at
      Have a great day

  3. Thanks for sending this reflection. It is one of fondest sayings. I also went through a period of loss in 1988-89, Two brothers in their Fifty’s three days before Christnas and then my Mother the following year. I truly believe that God decided that that my mother had enough grief and that she really did not need an operation and took her to heaven while the doctor was talking to her abou the preedure. She was 89. Yes she and my sibylins are with me where ever I am.

  4. Colleen thank you for such a powerful reflection. It has sadness but also hope and a great reminder that those we love are always with us. Thank you.

  5. Yes, It may be a sad incident for some ,but it is a reminder, for us that we must be ready to leave our bodies at any moments call by GOD. Body returns to dust but spirit lives on in the promise of resurrection and new life. Lent is a season to change many things in ourselves which are not pleasing to GOD and come closer to HIM.

  6. What a beautiful reflection. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. The ashes of your brother along with the ashes of all those who have died along with him have blessed us all and inspired our nation. As you reminded us in your reflection we are all simply ashes but our souls will bask in the love of God for all eternity. We must live in the “now”. May this lenten season enable us to identify those things that keep us from the love of God.

Leave a Reply