Warning: Please if you are not dust, do not read this article. If you persist in reading through, then you bear the consequences. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Any student who fails to read the instruction on the examination paper before writing is doomed to fail. Do not be faster than your legs, because life has no duplicate. Few days ago, I was undertaking an evening bodily exercise in the town of my domicile. Along the way, I saw something strange. A red cloth was tied around a portion of land with a small coffin at the centre. A small iron board was conspicuously erected at the site with the inscription: “Warning: No more dumping of refuse here, otherwise….” My inquisitive mind convinced me that the completion of the sentence is 'otherwise you die.' The small coffin symbolizes death. I wanted to dump something there to see if I would die. But on second thoughts, I decided to go on my way.
On Ash Wednesday this year, we celebrated Holy Mass to begin the Lenten season of forty days. After delivering a touching homily, I blessed the ashes and used it liturgically to make the Sign of the Cross on the forehead of each faithful that came up to the altar rail. Towards the end of administering the ashes, one gently dressed young man came up and knelt before the altar. I administered the ashes on his forehead saying, “You are dust, unto dust you will return again.” I was about to remove my thumb instrument from his forehead when he rose up sharply and shouted, “Father, if it is a joke, please stop it! I am a gentleman with high connections. I am not dust at all. I came into this church to be blessed and not to be cursed.” I glanced at him and said in my heart, “Lord, have mercy.” The young man dressed in suit walked out of the church madly shouting, “Nonsense! Nonsense!! I shall be back!!!” I did not utter any reprisal word or action. Everyone in the church was wondering what was amiss with the young man. Murmuring overtook the congregation until I exclaimed, “Praise the Lord!” Because Alleluia is forbidden in Lent, they responded, “Amen!!!” The Mass continued as usual until the end when I said, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.” The congregation responded, “Thanks be to God.” The people went out of the church while I retired into the sacristy to remove my sacerdotal vestments.
As I was stepping out of the church door, I saw the self acclaimed gentleman with three red-eyed and armed policemen. They accosted me and pointed the gun at me saying, “Man of God, you are under arrest.” They wanted to handcuff me but I resisted it clerically. Being an obedient servant of God, I obeyed the order of the policemen and followed them to the Central Police Station. At our arrival, they ordered me to go behind the counter. I obeyed and quietly sat down there. The investigating police officer (IPO) gave me a rough paper to write my statement. I asked the officer to take back the rough paper because I am not a rough man. He accepted and gave me a smooth paper. I began to write smoothly about what happened and why I was arrested. The self acclaimed gentleman told the police that I assaulted him in the church and threatened his life by dusting him with poisonous ashes on the forehead. He thereby accused me of attempted murder. In my own statement, I refuted his false allegations. I stated clearly that I was doing my duty as a priest of God when the young man came into the church on Ash Wednesday and I signed him with ashes on the forehead, reminding him that he is dust and unto dust he will return again.
Later, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) invited the two of us (the complainant and defendant) in his office for questioning. Just there, I saw Jesus Christ standing beside me while Satan was standing beside my accuser. I made the Sign of the Cross and smiled that the Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. After going through our statements, the DPO frowned at the confused gentleman for ridiculing a Man of God and for bringing false allegations against me. Instantly, he was given twenty-four lashes of koboko and was thrown into the cell. I was discharged and acquitted for want of evidence. Before stepping out, I appealed to the DPO to temper justice with mercy on the purported gentleman. The DPO assured me that he would treat him with the justice of mercy. He ordered his boys to fuel my car and to escort me back to the church. I came back triumphantly into the church premises and was received by a praying assembly.
Few days later, the young man was bailed from police cell. He was warned against raising false alarm again and against laying violent hand on a clergyman. Also he was advised to come and apologize to me. I was in my office the following Tuesday morning when he walked in sorrowfully. He prostrated himself flat on the ground filled with harmattan dust. With tears flowing down his cheeks, he said remorsefully, “Forgive me Father for I have committed blunder against you. It is now that I realize that I am useless dust. Please pray for me and bless me too.” I looked at him mercifully and helped him to get up. I embraced him brotherly. His face beamed with smiles. He asked me to sign him with the ashes again if it remained. I told him that there was no need to repeat the rite. I forgave him from the depth of my heart and dismissed him happily. He walked away like a moving corpse.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are mere mortals. God created us from the dust of the earth as we read from the Holy Scripture: “Yahweh God shaped man from the soil of the ground and blew the breath of life into his nostrils, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). A certain husband and wife were quarreling one early morning. The wife shouted at him saying, “You are a worthless idiot!” The husband retorted, “If you don't mind yourself, I will turn you back into dust this morning.” A fierce fight raged between the couple. They forgot the oath of for-better-for-worse. Thank God neighbours ran out and intervened. Fire would have met fuel.
As I stood beside a busy road, I saw various grades of people walking up and down. There was one particular lady walking majestically as if she does not go to toilet. She painted her face like mammy water with her long hairs touching the ground from behind. She was swinging her extraordinary waist left and right. Her nails were looking like sharp long instruments. I looked at her sorrowfully and exclaimed, “Oh, what a proud dust!” I looked the other way. What did I see? I saw a young man with plaited hairs walking like a ghost. His pair of tattered and dirty jean trouser was sagging at the back, thereby displaying his dirty pant which was originally white. I nodded my head and exclaimed, “Oh, this young man is already dead and waiting for burial!” I spat on the ground and covered my nose with handkerchief in order to avoid inhaling dusty flying germs coming out from his dirty underwear and 'jagajaga' trouser.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Firstly, the ashes (dust) remind us that we are under the law of mortality. Death is the common denominator for all living things. In other words, we must die some day, some time and somewhere. At death the body decays and turns into dust while the soul goes back to the Creator for judgment. During the final resurrection, the transformed body shall rise again from the dust of the earth and then unite with the soul eternally. This earth is our temporal home. We are on pilgrimage to our eternal home, which is Heaven. But if we miss the heavenly destination, then we shall be imprisoned in hell forever. Our Lord Jesus Christ asks, “What benefit is it to anyone to win the whole world and forfeit or lose his soul?” (Luke 9:23). God forbid!
A man who does not know how his young wife will look like in her old age should glance at his mother in-law. Whenever we see a corpse, we should remember that we are potential corpses. A certain man calls his wife 'Ozu' (corpse) whenever he addresses her. If the wife is 'ozu,' then he is the husband of 'ozu.' And if he is the husband of 'ozu' then he is equally an 'ozu' (corpse). Quod Erat Demonstratum (QED). There was another man who married a beautiful wife. She was beauty personified. Suddenly she died mysteriously. The husband refused to bury her. He kept her corpse in the other room (according to Buhari). He wondered how he would bury beauty in the soil just like that. He maintained that the marriage continues. After three days the corpse started decomposing and emitting deadly smell. All those living around could no longer stay in their homes due to the deadly odour. The men of the town's vigilante group tied their mouths and noses with pieces of cloth and forcefully snatched the decaying body from the husband and buried it. Thus the spread of epidemics was averted.
An honourable man is an honourable corpse in prospect. Those addressed as “Your Excellency” are excellent corpses in making. A beautiful woman is a beautiful corpse. A handsome man is a handsome corpse. An ugly man or woman gives rise to an ugly corpse. Those ladies spending their earnings in make-ups and are very proud of themselves should remember that they are dust. Those of us feeding the flesh and starving the soul should know that they are pursuing shadows. Caution is the watch-word. A stubborn fly perishes with the corpse.
Secondly, signing with ashes (dust) is a sign of repentance from our sins. He who says that he has never sinned is a liar. The dispensation of the ashes on the forehead of the faithful, the minister alternatively says, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” Covering oneself with ashes is a sign of sorrow. After Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh, they did penance by wearing or sitting on ashes as a visible sign of repentance. But this does not mean that after taking a bath we then throw ashes all over the body. By so doing, one may be mistaken as a mad man or mad woman. A pious woman after receiving the ashes on Ash Wednesday asked me if she can take her bath that day or to wait until the ashes naturally disappear from her forehead. I couldn't control my laughter. I advised her to do what her conscience tells her. She looked at me with confusion written on her face. To clear the coast I told her clearly that she is free to take her bath when due. Dirtiness is not a sign of repentance. Sacrament or sacramental is an outward sign of inward grace. There is time for everything. Sorrow for one's sins comes from within the heart.
Before putting down my pen, I recommend to each and every one of us to rush immediately to the nearest market and purchase dusting powder and apply it daily on our bodies to remind us that we are nothing but dust. Failure to do so attracts severe penalty.