In many popular movies, there is a plot device called The Ticking Clock that is used to add suspense and excitement. For me, one of most memorable uses of this plot device is in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In the opening scene, the protagonist Indiana Jones unwittingly ingests some wine laced with poison. He finds out that the antagonist Lao Che has the antidote, which sets up an exciting action scene where Dr. Jones must try to get the antidote before the poison takes effect. It adds suspense and a sense of urgency, which engrosses an audience in the film because they naturally want to see the protagonist survive.

“When we receive ashes upon our heads and hear these words, perhaps we should think to ourselves, ‘I don’t have much time left to do what the Lord is calling me to do.'”

The Church has begun the season of Lent with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. When people come up to receive ashes, they will hear either “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” While I have an appreciation for both liturgical options, I find the second option to be more jarring. After all, it is not every day that we are reminded of our own death. Yet we hear this reminder year after year on Ash Wednesday. I like to imagine that this message becomes even more urgent with every passing year as we approach the end of our own lives. Perhaps a good way to think about this reminder is that it is the Church’s way of incorporating a “Ticking Clock” device into the liturgy itself. When we receive ashes upon our heads and hear these words, perhaps we should think to ourselves, “I don’t have much time left to do what the Lord is calling me to do.” It should add a certain level of suspense and even, dare I say, tension that drives us forward to do what is right, to turn away from sin, and to seek to do God’s will in all things before it is too late. Regardless of whether we are younger or older, we have a relatively brief amount of time in this life before we follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and return to the dust from which we came. The fragility of our own mortality should move us to do what we can while we still have the time, since nobody knows the day or the hour when our time will come.

The Lord is inviting us to join him in the desert of Lent, to accompany him as he is tempted by Satan, and to learn from him the way we should respond to temptation. He has equipped us with the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting, and works of charity to fight against our own sinful inclinations and our selfishness. As we begin this penitential season, the words that we have heard on Ash Wednesday about returning to dust can serve as the Ticking Clock that motivates us to accomplish our Lenten goals. Our time is short and there is so much good for the Lord and for the Church that we can do while we are still alive. Let us pray for a fruitful season for all of us, that we might turn away from sin and believe wholeheartedly in the Gospel with all our thoughts, words, and actions.


– Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA



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