The Master of Dust

howard ducan dust

As the Extraordinary Form of the Mass progressed the priest started to intone the Gospel. He spoke in Latin, reading from the Gospel situated on the left side of the altar. His back was to me and from my vantage point, it almost looked as if he was hunched over in order to get closer to the book. His Latin came easy as he was as proficient in this form of the Mass as he was the Novus Ordo which he also says in Latin. He is a Franciscan Friar and a brilliant teacher of any aspect of the faith.

Before Mass we had The Stations of the Cross. Stations is one of my favorite devotions. Christ’s willing sacrifice for my sake is the focus of our belief. In order that we may always have this in our minds and hearts we have the Mass. Stations is a closer look at each important aspect of Christ’s tortured walk to Golgotha.

Forgetfulness. Am I Aging Perhaps?

I had forgotten my missal this Friday night as I left the house and was unable to follow the words in English. The Gospel and the Epistle would be repeated later in English before the homily. As the priest intoned the rather lengthy Gospel message my gaze happened upon the large sculpture of Christ on a cross above the original altar. This church is our Cathedral in the downtown area and was built in 1908 so the original altar is on the rear wall holding the expected tabernacle so you don’t have to guess where the unknown “they” have decided Christ should be – Waldo like. A new altar used to accommodate the Novus Ordo sits at the front of the sanctuary. There are kneelers at both sides for use during an Extraordinary Form Mass like this one.

The semi- domed shaped ceiling surround of the altar and large crucifix contains a 1950s mural with fading paintings of saints of the old and new testament. At the apex of this entire tableau is an image not usually seen in church buildings. A spotlight highlights the image of a lamb with a nautical life preserver in red and white above it’s head where you would expect to see a halo. I have never made up my mind if I like this image up there because every time I look at it I get a modern nautical feeling. My mind drifts around in images of modern boats and oceans and ships and sailors instead of the ancient region of Galilee. The lamb though is a very powerful image that any Christian of Jew will understand immediately. But then I remember that there is a major river, the Jordan, and very large lake in that region and our Christian heritage begins with a “nautical theme” one might say.

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Mathew 14:28-32)

All winter long, the most important part of the news report for Israelis is not the dollar-shekel exchange rate or the level of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange index, but rather the water level in Lake Kineret, which often reflects the national spirit. The Kineret, or Sea of Galilee, is Israel’s largest fresh water reservoir, and is also the country’s largest and most important source and reservoir of drinking water. For this and other reasons, the Kineret has become an important national symbol and is also a first class tourism center. (Israel Ministry of Tourism)

There is the traditional straight on alignment of the pews facing the altar. This layout with massive stained glass windows on opposite walls and the low lighting gives me a perfect atmosphere in which to ponder our Lord and all He has done during His brief temporal wanderings about the Galilee.

The Gospel Message?

My thoughts during that moment of the Gospel reading just happened to settle upon the reality of the universality of our faith. It became so clear to me that at that very moment a Mass or public prayer or adoration or the rosary or some other devotion, liturgy of the hours or vespers, was happening. Lead by a priest or deacon or Lay person. This is happening every hour of the day around the world, many different events occurring concurrently. A non-stop human response to Christ’s passion for 2,000 years! We do understand. We have responded. We want what you offer us. Our will aligns with yours!

I have always strived for a closer connection with the past. To be closer not only to my late relatives but every person that has lived and worshiped God. In the Catholic faith that connection goes back to creation, then the Jews, then the Apostles and their immediate persecuted followers. It continues on to those who came after that and adopted the faith or were ordained into the faith. We are the human race all asking the same questions and manuvering through life, suffering it’s imperfection as a result of our own imperfect choices. This is most clear when we consider the turmoil of the 20th century. A travesty brought on by greed, self interest, and a lust for power. A granting of selfish power for selfish reasons without thinking. Power that is nothing more than control over other persons. A power that prioritized human beings according to a predetermined idology that collectivizes and looses the individual in the process.

Christ’s passion reminds us that we are important individuals, not a collective group to be made to conform to the will of an imperfect charismatic leader. The more we try and dominate humanity and make it’s activities conform to an impressed or voted upon ideal that ignores the individual as being valuable, ignores God, the more we accept degradation and misery.


At the Ash Wednesday placing of the ashes on a Catholic’s forehead, the priest says, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This is the important difference between our faith and having no faith. It just so happens exactly according to God’s plan and his creation that we are indeed dust. Neither atheism nor materialism nor scientism disagrees with this. Their explanation of our existence can only be derived from what exists in the physical universe. Spirit to those ideologies is non-existent. There is no explanation of the nature of thought or conciseness. That is left to a romanticized future of scientific perfection.

If we are dust, and materialists and Christians agree, then how do we warrant any kind of importance or notice? Dust is a bother, an inconvenient nuisance. It can bother your breathing causing you to sneeze or in my case irritate a sensitive bronchial area. It causes me work at the inconvenience of constant housecleaning. What good is it? What good am I if in am just dust? Dust can be disposed of by the millions. What does it matter? The mechanics of getting rid of dust in large quantities can occupy brilliant minds. What a magnificent scientific and entrepreneurial quest that is. Man can create the most powerful vacuum cleaner with the best suction or he can devise the cheapest killing method that will not remove much needed rounds of ammunition from the eastern front while removing unwanted “dust” from society.

Ah science, the servant of man. Ah man, the master of creation, the master of dust.

But Only of Dust

The only importance a dust particle has in all the universe and all of eternity is an importance that God has given it. In unity with our familiar body resides the spiritual aspect that gives it life meaning and purpose. Without this soul, this life, this intangible quality inhabiting dust, your loved one would stare blankly into your bright eyes as he or she lies helpless and limp unable to respond to you in the realm you inhabit. He or she only now able to regret and work towards total purification, and you, only able to affect your future by pursuing your faith and knowing that pleasing God will bring you to a better life on earth and with others in eternity.

We are more than dust, but we can do no more than what dust was given.

The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.

The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.

The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not “produced” by the parents—and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection. (ccc 362, 365, 366)

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4 thoughts on “The Master of Dust”

  1. Pingback: Two Patron Saints of Christian Unity -

  2. ” This is most clear when we consider the turmoil of the 20th century. A travesty brought on by greed, self interest, and a lust for power. A granting of selfish power for selfish reasons without thinking. Power that is nothing more than control over other persons. A power that prioritized human beings according to a predetermined idology that collectivizes and looses the individual in the process.”

    Sounds remarkably like the CC at the height of its power ( from 500 to 1500 AD ) – but then again history does repeat itself across all lines.

    ” The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God …”

    But over a quarter of all peoples still believe God recycles souls to better foster spiritual growth and potential.

    1. Sounds remarkably like the CC at the height of its power

      With God’s help persons in all endeavors can change their response to evil influences and create habits that create instead of destroy. I would also compare the magnitude and character of different historical events and persons involved. I can think of no greater tragedy in human history, perhaps the barbarian invasion of Europe, than the trenches and killing camps and atomic 20th century. The 21st?

      But…peoples still believe


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