Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Reflection #1: Ash Wednesday


Verse: Our help is in the name of the Lord / Adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini
Response: Who made heaven and earth / Qui fecit caelum et terram.

Scripture: Isaiah 58:1-7
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast; Tell my people their wickedness, and the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day, and desire to know my ways, Like a nation that has done what is just and not abandoned the law of their God; They ask me to declare what is due them, pleased to gain access to God.
"Why do we fast, and you do not see it? afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?" Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw. Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.

Almost the first words we hear in the Holy Season of Lent are the traditional formula for the distribution of ashes: “Remember, man, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” These words come from Genesis 3:19. And synonymous with ‘genesis’ is the idea of creation. In a brief quote from Scripture, packed with theology and anthropology, Holy Mother Church reminds us of our creation – that we are creatures and nothing more. We are part of a hierarchy of being; and we are not at its summit! God is Supreme Being; God is Creator. We are His creatures. Furthermore, by calling creation to mind with the distribution of ashes, another message is loud and clear – just as obvious as the smudge on the forehead: We are in need of re-creation! For, you see, those words from Genesis are also closely linked to man’s exile from the garden of Eden and, thus, separation from the way leading to the Tree of Life (cf. Gn. 3:24).

Isaiah speaks of crying out. Most of us cry out when we are born. And soon after, we begin crying out for the things we want, the things that fill us up, the desires that never seem satisfied. And let’s not kid ourselves! We are just as much babies now, crying out for the things of this world. Look around. Hear all the clamor round about you. There is the roar of sirens carrying the message that someone is in trouble, perhaps at another’s hand. The noise of the TV is always in the background and obviously notched up when commercials air. The false zeal of quick tempers screams when we don’t get our way. It is all the cacophony of sin. It must appear, in some ways, from the realms of heaven, as a sad “stock exchange” of humanity.

But God sees more. And through the prophet Isaiah’s crying out, we are told to seek repentance, forgiveness, and authenticity. By our Lenten disciplines we seek to empty our greedy hands and greedy hearts from the things with which we become so easily obsessed. Why? Not to remain empty; but to be able to grasp the hand of the Lord more firmly, to be able to love the Lord more fully. And to more fully receive His love! Isaiah, and the readings of today’s Holy Mass, reminds us of the goal of our disciplines. The ashes we wear and the disciplines we take up are not for show, but should lead us to the life God desires: to be re-created by His grace and to bear that life to the world, to the imprisoned, to the burdened and oppressed, to the hungry, to the homeless, to the naked, brothers and sisters all (cf. reading above)! And one day this will lead us to THE Angel of God, His Son, Who will not block our entry to the garden, but will usher us to the good things of the Tree of Life!

V. You are dust, and unto dust you shall return.
Spare, O Lord, spare your people; and do not be angry with us forever.
V. You are dust, and unto dust you shall return.
Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
V. You are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

Our Father.
Hail Mary.
Glory be.

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life. Amen. / Dominus nos benedicat, et ab omni malo defendat, et ad vitam perducat aeternam. Amen.

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