March 1, 2017

Ash Wed.

March 1, 2017:  Ash Wednesday

  • 'Hearts' suspenders:  "Rend your hearts"; "return to me with your whole heart" (1st reading); "create for me a clean heart" (psalm); harden not your hearts (gospel acclamation)
  • 'Phone' tie bar:  'Call' an assembly (1st reading)
  • 'Angel with trumpet' pin:  "Blow the trumpet" (1st reading); don't blow a trumpet when you give alms (gospel)
  • 'Dove' pin:  Don't take your Holy Spirit from me (psalm)
  • 'Clock' pin:  "In an acceptable time I heard you.... Now is a very acceptable time..." (2nd reading)
  • 'Hands' tie:  "When you give alms, don't let your left hand know what your right is doing" (gospel)
  • 'Car' tie pin:  Lent as journey of hope (papal audience)
  • Washed face (not shown):  When you fast,...  wash your face (gospel)
  • Ashes on forehead (not shown):  Ash Wednesday; "you're dust and shall return to dust"
  • Purple shirt:  Lenten season

For Psalm 51 (of the many settings)
Pope Francis
General Audience:  Lent is a journey of hope; it directs us towards Resurrection and helps us renew our Baptismal identity. 
In their Exodus journey, the Chosen People, through the discipline and gift of the Law, learned love of God and neighbor.  It was a long, tormented journey full of difficulties and obstacles, temptations to turn back.  But the Lord stayed close, and they finally arrived in the Promised Land.  Their journey was an 'exodus' out of slavery into freedom, undertaken in hope.  Every step, every test, every fall, every recovery has a sense within God’s saving plan; he wants life for his people.
Easter is Jesus’ own exodus, his passover from death to life; we participate in it through our Baptism.  By following Christ along the way of the Cross, we share in his victory.  To open this passage for us, he had to humble himself and be obedient until death on the cross.  This doesn’t mean he did everything and we don’t have to do anything, that he went through the cross and we'll go to heaven in a carriage.  Our salvation is his gift, but it's part of a love story and requires our participation.  With a heart open to this horizon, may we enter into Lent feeling we belong to God's holy people; may we begin our journey of hope with joy.
Lenten message:  The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift:  Lent is a new beginning, a path to Christ’s victory, a call to conversion.  We're asked to return to God, not settle for mediocrity, and grow in friendship with the Lord.  We can deepen our spiritual life through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.  We're invited to hear and ponder God's word more deeply.  Let us find inspiration in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus; it provides a key to understanding how to attain happiness and eternal life; it exhorts us to sincere conversion.
The other person is a gift:  The poor man is described as wretched, full of sores, too weak to stand, being fed on the crumbs falling from the rich man's table.  Dogs are licking his wounds.  He's disgraced and pitiful.  It's even more dramatic when you remember his name is Lazarus ("God helps").  He's not anonymous; we see him, though the rich man hardly does.  He's a face, a gift, a treasure, a human being God loves and cares for, despite his condition as an outcast.  He teaches us that others are a gift.  We need to recognize their value.  The parable invites us to open our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether our neighbor or an anonymous pauper.  Lent is a time to open our doors to all in need and recognize Christ in them.  We meet people like this every day.  Each life we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect, and love.  God's word helps us to welcome and love life, especially when it's weak and vulnerable, but to do this, we have to take seriously what we read about the rich man.
Sin blinds us:  Unlike Lazarus, the rich man isn't given a name.  He wears extravagant robes.  He's ostentatious about his wealth, displaying it daily.  In him we see the corruption of sin, which progresses from love of money to vanity to pride.  “Love of money is the root of all evils,” the main cause of corruption, a source of envy and strife.   Money can dominate us.  Instead of being an instrument for good, it can chain us and the world to a logic that leaves no room for love and peace.  The rich man’s greed makes him vain.  He shows others what he can do, but his appearance masks interior emptiness.  He's prisoner to appearances.  He dresses like a king and acts like a god.  For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their ego; they don't see those around them.  They're blind to the poor who are starving, hurting.  No wonder the gospel condemns love of money.
The Word is a gift:  The parable helps us prepare for Easter.  The Ash Wednesday liturgy invites us to remember we're dust and will return to dust.  The rich man and Lazarus both died, and most of the parable takes place in the afterlife, where they discover they can't take anything out of the world.  The rich man speaks with "father" Abraham, as a sign he belongs to God’s people. This makes his life appear even more contradictory; until then there was no mention of his relation to God.  His only god was himself.  He recognizes Lazarus only in the torments of the afterlife.  He wants him to alleviate his suffering, asking what he never did for him.  Then he asks Abraham to send him to warn his brothers, but Abraham answers, “Let them listen to Moses and the prophets....  If they won't, then they won't be convinced even if one rises from the dead.”  At the root of his ills was failure to heed God’s word; he didn't love God or neighbor.  God's word can leading hearts back.  When we close our heart to it, we close our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.
Lent is a time to renew our encounter with Christ and live in his word, the sacraments, and our neighbor.  The Lord shows us the path.  May the Spirit lead us on a journey of conversion, so we may rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of sin, and serve Christ present in those in need.  By sharing in Christ's victory, may we open our doors to the weak and poor, then experience and share Easter joy.
  • Jl 2:12-18  Return to me with fasting and weeping; rend your hearts.  The Lord is gracious, merciful, kind, and relenting.  Proclaim a fast; gather the people; say, “Lord, spare your people, and don't make your heritage a reproach.”  Then the Lord took pity.
  • Ps 51:3-6ab, 12-14, 17  "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned."  I acknowledge my offense.  Create a clean heart for me.  Don't cast me out from your presence.  Give me back the joy of your salvation.  Open my lips, and I'll proclaim your praise.
  • 2 Cor 5:20-6:2  We're ambassadors for Christ.  Be reconciled to God who made Jesus who didn't know sin to be sin, so we might become God's righteousness.  Now is a very acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.
  • Mt 6:1-6, 16-18  “Don't do righteous deeds so that people see them.  When you give alms, pray, or fast, don't call attention to it like hypocrites do.  Do it in secret; your Father will see and repay you.”

    • Creighton:  Lent is a time for sacrifice, but also reconciliation and greater awareness of our relationship with God. It's a time to return to God, acknowledge our shortcomings, atone.  The 1st reading encourages us to come to God for forgiveness and mercy, turning away from whatever has kept us from God and seeking to be better with God's help.  Denying ourselves can help us feel solidarity.  Jesus doesn't discourage us from fasting or almsgiving but does from making a show of it.  Are we giving to help others, or so others can see we're generous? 
    • One Bread, One Body:  "Public or private?"  There is a public dimension to Lent:  the ashes proclaim to we're mortal, sinners in need of God's mercy, and united with other Catholics.  Together we fast, pray, do penance, and give alms to grow together in holiness.
    There's also a private dimension:  giving our lives to the Lord for his own sake, not pride.  We beg the Lord to purify our motives.  We fast to grow close to God, not to be noticed, not primarily to lose weight; we say no to ourselves and yes to the Spirit.  Jesus invites us to accompany him on a retreat into the desert.  Do we want Lent to be a drudgery or a time of growth in grace and power?  Do we want evil to be thrown down by the power of our fasting and prayer?Do we want God's will to be done?
    • Passionist:  “You are dust and unto dust you shall return” is from when God, disappointed in Adam and Eve's sin, warns them of the threat of death.  In the Gen 2 creation account, God took “dust” or “clay,” formed it into a human shape, then breathed life into the man’s nostrils.  We are “dust” but also carry God's life.  “The man became a living being.”  We're clay with the breath of God inside:  prone to failure and sin, but carrying the divine life-breath, in God's image and likeness.  We need to recall both dimensions.  Our “righteous deeds” such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving should be done to glorify and praise God, not win human favor.  Jesus calls his disciples to be “light of the world,” “salt of the earth,” letting the good example of their lives inspire others.  Pope Francis reminds us of the impact of “small gestures of love.”  Therese of Lisieux invited us to practice the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, smile, or any small gesture to sow peace and friendship and break with the logic of violence, exploitation, and selfishness.   “Love, overflowing with small gestures of care… is felt in every action that seeks to build a better world” (Laudato Si).  Our world seems deeply divided.  Perhaps we're called to live with greater integrity and give witness that counters a culture of death with the ideal of a “civilization of love.”  May the ashes we wear remind us and others that we're God’s handiwork, bags of clay carrying the divine life-breath.
    •  "When you pray, fast, and give alms":  God wants to set us ablaze with his Spirit that we may share in his holiness and radiate gospel joy.  "There are two kinds of people and two kinds of love:  one holy, the other selfish; one subject to God, the other trying to equal him" (Augustine).  We are what we love.  God wants to free us from all that would keep us captive.  The Spirit is ready to transform and lead us.
    Jews considered prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as cardinal works of the religious life, key signs of a pious person, three pillars on which the good life was based.  Do you pray, fast, and give alms to draw attention to yourself or give glory to God?  The Lord warned his disciples against preoccupation with looking good and seeking praise.  True piety is loving devotion to God, awe, reverence, worship, obedience; it's a gift and work of the Spirit that enables us to devote our lives to God desiring to please him in all things.
    In God alone do we find life, happiness, and truth. "When I'm completely united to you, there will be no more sorrows or trials; full of you, my life will be complete" (Augustine).  The Lord wants to renew us and give us hearts of love and compassion.  May we seek God in prayer and fasting, generously giving to those in need, and so grow in love for God and neighbor.
    Forty is significant in the scriptures:  days Moses went to the mountain seeking God's face, years the Israelites were in the wilderness preparing to enter the promised land, days Elijah fasted on the way to the mountain of God.  We're called to journey with God and prepare for Easter.  The Lord gives us nourishment and strength to seek him and prepare for spiritual combat and testing. We must follow the way of the cross to share the victory of the resurrection.  Lord, pour out your Spirit that we may grow in faith, hope, and love and embrace your will more fully.

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