Yesterday , February 17,2021 was the first day of the Lenten season or Ash Wednesday. It is the day Christians gather to begin the forty day journey with Christ to the Cross and to resurrection, to ever new life. We begin assessing our lives and admitting to the many ways we can find to move away from God and God’s ways to focus on ourselves alone and to avoid opportunities to show love to God and to our neighbors. We take to heart, to the depths of our hearts, the words of the Prophet Joel: (Joel 2:2-18 The Inclusive Bible Version-Priests For Equality)
“Even now-it is Your God who speaks-
return to me with your whole heart,
fasting, weeping, mourning.
rend your hearts, not your garments.
Return to Your God, who is gracious and merciful
and ready to forgive…..”
We pray Psalm 51 together asking;
” God, create a clean heart in me,
put into me a new and constant spirit.
Do not banish me from Your presence,
do not deprive me of Your Holy Spirit.
RX Have Mercy O God, in Your goodness
Be my savior again, renew my joy
keep my spirit steady and willing;
Open my lips,
and my mouth will speak out Your Praise.”
Just take a moment and ask where has your joy gone lately? Because of Covid isolation and the personal things each of us face, life can often be described more as drudgery or obligation than joy or willing and ready spirit, filled by God’s Holy Spirit. We thank God for the opportunity to come together as best we can, some only by zoom, some in small groups, and some alone, to focus on what is happening in our lives and spirits. We thank God for this time of Lent to get our bearings again. To ask God for the joy of salvation, for the wisdom and strength to clear out the debris and begin again in love of God and follow Christ as he makes his way toward the inevitable cross-and then-to the life beyond the cross. How we all need that life!
We hear from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth: (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2) that we are ambassadors for Christ,”as though God were making the appeal directly through us. Therefore we implore you in Christ’s name:be reconciled to God…..As Christ’s co-workers we beg you not to receive the grace of God in vain…..’Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of Salvation!”
And why not now? Why not now to reignite the joy of salvation within ourselves and our communities. Indeed, NOW is the acceptable time….and Thank God for NOW!
When we receive the ashes on our foreheads there are two sets of words that may be used: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” To remember our mortality and our fragility-perhaps easier to do in the midst of this pandemic when there is loss at every level including loss of life, all around. And “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”. I choose to say “Repent and believe in and live the Gospel”. In the original sense of the word “believe” living and following is implied but in our modern language believe can be divorced from actions- so I remarry it. With both sets of words at the imposition of ashes, we are reminded to turn our lives around, to get them back on track where they have fallen off and to “live Jesus” as the Salesians say. I do beleive that there are those who are living in grace and living lives full of Jesus. But I also know how easy it is for my own life to fall off the track as I remember grief and loss more than life and joy-and as I put myself and my “needs” above the needs of God’s children in a suffering yet so beautiful world. And so I am thankful for the ashes, for the time to remember to put God and all God’s creation first again. I am so thankful.
When the sign of the Cross in ashes is placed on the forehead, those receiving it are saying “I love you Jesus, and I am sorry for my sometimes shoddy behavior and uneven faith”. And because it is an obvious sign , they are willing to live their faith out loud, in public, visibly. And yet in the Gospel (Matthew 6:1-6,16-18) Jesus warns us not to “practice your piety before others to attract their attention; if you do this, you will have no reward from your Abba God in heaven.” He tells us to give charity quietly, without trumpets, and simply, and to pray in our closets in secret, not for public attention, and not to moan if we are fasting or making other sacrifices for the kin-dom of God to come on earth, and “our God who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.” Leave it to Jesus to tell it like it is and give us a way to handle the ways even our good acts can go off track.
We shared the wise words of Pope Francis in his Lenten Tweet and meditated upon them. We ask you to do the same:
“Today we bow our heads to receive ashes. Lent is a humble descent both inwards and towards others. It is about realizing that salvation is not an ascent to glory,but a descent in love. It is about becoming little”. vatican.va/contentfrance
LET US CONTINUE THIS DESCENT TOGETHER during this blessed Lenten Season.
And, moving to today’s readings (Deuteronomy 30: 15-20; Psalm 1; and Luke 9:22-25) let us choose LIFE over death, every time and in every way we can. “Today I have set before you life and success, or death and disaster… Deuteronomy ” CHOOSE LIFE…. “Happiness comes to those who delight in the Law of YHWH (God)….They’re like trees planted by flowing water-they bear fruit in every season….YHWH watches over the steps of those who do justice; but those on a paths of violence and injustice will find themselves irretrievably lost… (Psalm 1)” Well we might desire and try to live following the law of loving God first in our lives and loving others like ourselves, but now is a time to assess how hard that actually is and how we can with God’s help live more closely to the spirit of the Law Jesus gave us. And we can assess too the ways in which violence and injustice may flow from our mouths if not from our hands. Jesus tells us in the Gospel to deny ourselves and follow in his steps. If we are honest with ourselves, how hard is that?! He adds that if we lose our lives for his sake we shall find them.
.Let us find our lives this Lenten season, rediscover them where they have become lost in daily living and struggles, or even find them for the first time. What a wonderful opportunity we have this Lenten season to find our very lives, to choose life! To what Pope Francis said:” It is about becoming little” I humbly add “It is about becoming Love”.
AMEN , AMEN.
Here are some moments from the past about becoming Love for the world- May each of us find our own way of doing and being this this Lenten season
With love and blessings,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith A.B.Lee
The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers, Florida