Hugs and Ashes-Ash Wednesday with the Good Shepherd Community and Its Women Priests
Our community had two worship services today, actually one service and one Mass. The Mass was after the first service and attended by twenty-one people including families and the ashes were given after the homily followed by the Eucharist where Pastor Judy Beaumont presided and all consecrated and prayed the liturgy together. After my part of the homily the people add their own insights. The raw sharing of what needed to be changed in lives followed. Anger at family members, hurt, resentment, selfishness and having no time for God or others needed to be changed during this Lenten season. One elder praised the young people who were there for coming and told them to hold their heads up high at school with the joy that they followed Christ. I was deeply moved and blessed everyone there for their faithfulness in starting this Lenten journey together as a community and in the quality of care that is so evident among them. All present received ashes and participated in sharing and being the body of Christ.
The first service was attended by eighteen people most of whom were formerly homeless. I will share the sermon that emerged from this gathering of God’s people.
The first thing we give on this day is hugs-hugs in response to their generous hugs and hugs requested by them. By the time the service begins all are feeling loved and welcomed. This, our usual Tuesday group, is a faithful and enthusiastic group that enjoy the informality and freedom of participating in the discussion of the day’s scriptures, in prayer and in sharing their own stories. They look forward to the hot lunch but often let it get cold as they become involved in discussion and prayer. They remain long afterward to enjoy the company of one another in their church living room. Usually a few “new” people also attend. Today we had two new men join our circle. In between the two services I saw people in counselling and referrals and Pastor Judy B. saw them for concrete needs. The mood is joyful and the talking and singing can be loud as feelings are expressed in tone and tempo. Even the solemnity of Ash Wednesday could not temper the joy at being together once again.
This group knows suffering-the suffering of sleeping in the street or woods, the suffering of being hungry, the suffering of physical and mental illnesses that go untreated, the suffering of rejection and shunning, of people not seeing or looking away, and the suffering of losing family and friends to violence, to illness, to neglect. Mortality awareness is every day. There is no need to remember it as if it is far away. A few also struggle with life consuming addictions or mental illnesses. Evil touches their lives on both personal and social levels as the poor here in mostly right wing Florida have very little given to alleviate poverty and suffering. So when I explain the themes of Ash Wednesday and why we keep this ritual of the church for those that may not know there is immediate understanding. The ashes are a sign of our turning around, of sorrow for those things that absorb us and keep us from right relationship with God and one another. The ashes are also a sign that we were made from dust and will return to dust. I add that the dust could be stardust or earth dust but we are created by our loving God in God’s own way and we return to God when our days are done. A few laugh heartily at the idea of stardust, seeing it inferior to good old mother earth dust and clay, seeing it as a truly far away metaphor, not needing any scientific explanation to satisfy their longing for a God who loves them and accepts them as they are. The God who is Love is very near to them-no metaphors are needed, euphemistic, ethereal or otherwise. Lauretta said “I didn’t think I needed God until God was all I had. When no one else loved me, I knew God still loved me.” She and Roger and Nate and Gary add that our ministry brought this love to them and now they make it their business to bring it to others. I said that as I look around the room I see a room full of people caring for one another and that is what God asks of us as we follow Jesus to the events of Holy Week and Easter, as we live the Gospel, the Good News, with Jesus.
Phyllis, Dwayne and Mary laughed when we made the distinction between “giving up something” and giving our whole hearts to God reflecting on Joel 12: 12-18. “No, God don’t want your bubble gum, or your cake, God wants your HEART! God ain’t no fool, and you can’t fool God!” Phyllis emphasized that everybody was to be brought to God, even the babies and that’s something-the whole community needs to realize who God is and how we turn away from God to satisfy our selves alone. John repeated that it is God’s love that we turn away from and yet God welcomes us back. After the Epistle reading (2 Cor 5:20-6:2) there was a veritable chorus of “NOW is the acceptable time” to be reconciled to God.
Then we sang “Holy Ground” touching our hearts and pointing first to ourselves and then to our neighbors as holy ground before the reading of the Gospel. After the reading of the Gospel we discussed acts of charity and fasting and praying. Dwayne summed up: everything we do needs to be done for love. “Fasting” just means don’t pig out, don’t live to eat or drink or do anything, live to love God and each other. People discussed where they pray and how they pray. Our volunteer cook of the day, Gini, prays as she walks and hears the birds and breathes God’s good air with the sun on her back. Lauretta prays by listening because otherwise she talks too much. Gary prays in his room where he is not distracted by anything. Nate prays as he rides his bike. Phyllis then made the Gospel reading ((Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18) come alive. She began to smile and then laugh. She said that she just “got it” Jesus was really making jokes about the hypocrites who blew their horns to herald their own righteous actions. She put those verses in her own words as Jesus might have said them with acting out the horn blowing, standing on the street corner, and making long faces and we were all laughing.
We then said Jesus’ prayer together holding hands and I blessed the ashes. I explained that there were two things that I could say as I made the sign of the cross on their heads with the ashes: the “dust to dust” saying or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”. The group was of one accord that the second one was the meaning they appreciated. Phyllis said, “ They say the other when they put you in the ground -when it is a funeral”. All agreed. I said I agreed and said that I intended to say the second-we are being invited to live, not to die. We need to reconcile with God who loves us completely and wants life for us. We need to help each other to walk the walk. All agreed and each one smiled as they received the ashes that reminded them of God’s love and desire for us to live fully now and forever.
How wise the people are, how easily they cut through to the essence of God’s love. I hope that you enjoy their sermon(s) as much as I did. And I hope that you will use this Lenten season to reflect on the ways you connect, disconnect and reconnect to our loving God and service to God’s people.
Love and blessings,
Pastor Judy Lee
Pastor Judy Beaumont ,
Your Roman Catholic Women Priests and The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community