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Ash Wednesday and the Anecdote for Excess


"Ash Wednesday is full of joy...The sources of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust."~ Thomas Merton

Seldom throughout the Liturgical Year do we hear from the ancient Israeli Old Testament Prophet Joel, the second of the twelve minor prophets, a member of the tribe of Reuben and son of Bathuel. Yet every year on Ash Wednesday he promptly ushers in the Lenten Season by way of the 1st Reading (Joel 2:12-18)), bestowing upon us a genuine and urgent message of repentance.

“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning,” are his opening words, setting the table for our annual Lenten theme. Yes, I use the word annual because unlike corporate retreats, community fundraisers, political conventions and the like, wherein different themes are oftentimes chosen each year, the Lenten message is timeless, unchanging and eternal. This invitation is ours until we breath our last.

Lent is a call to modesty, repentance, transformation. A chance to step away from the consumerism, the incessant noise, the breakneck pace. It is, as the title of today’s Reflection suggests, a true anecdote for excess. A reminder they we are made for far greater things than Netflix, fantasy baseball and cable news. Lent is a Liturgical Season of growth, grace and change, one wherein we seek to abandon who we’ve been for who we can become. With regard to grace, the sole driving force through which we are transformed into the people we can become, when we are awash in this precious gift, a gift that only God can give, anything is possible.

“For gracious and merciful is he,” continues Joel, “slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” This we witnessed firsthand yesterday If Gods can call for a do-over, certainly we too can do the same. And as Saint Paul tells us in today’s 2nd Reading “Now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

The call to repent is underscored by the ephemeral nature of our fleeting time here on Earth. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These are the words of our priests as they apply the ashen soot of last year’s Palm Sunday palms upon our awaiting foreheads.

Death....the great equalizer. When we stand before Jesus in judgement, our bank accounts won’t go with us, nor will our secular accomplishments, titles, or achievements. Our personal connections, regardless of how powerful and influential they may have been on Earth, cannot bail us out. At Mass this morning I couldn’t help but smile as I watched a young girl in her mother’s arms who, as her turn approached to receiver ashes, quickly turned her head away while putting her hands up to keep the lay minister from applying them. As cute and humorous as it was, it also served as a poignant metaphor for the countless people in our midst who are utterly terrified of dying. Those who are strictly of this world. As Catholics, we are called to be in the world yes, but not of the world (John 15:19, Romans 12:2, 1 John 2:15, Matthew 7:16-20, Colossians 3:2, John 8:23, John 17:16 etc. etc.).

Do you fear death? Perhaps an even better question might be are you unprepared for it? Not to worry, we can do something about that. Starting today as a matter of fact. During the Season of Lent there’s a tendency to “give things up.” Television, alcohol, gossip, Haagen Daz, whatever it may be. In keeping with that spirit, let today be the day we give up who we’ve been for who we can become.

I leave you with a quote from the great Saint Clement, who said “Let us fix our attention on the Blood of Christ and recognize how precious it is to God his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world”

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Repent and believe the good news.


Rosemary Amrhein on February 17, 2021:

In Ephesians Chapter 2 Verse 8 it says "By grace are ye saved thru faith not by works lest any man should boast."

I became a Bible reader in 2009, and it strengthened my relationship with Christ.

We cannot earn our way to heaven . we are not worthy. Jesus paid for our sins. However, faith without works is dead.

So, I believe I'm going to heaven because I've accepted Christ...

I confess to him directly.

when I sin.

but if we are to be old fashioned catholics...nothing is ever enough.

That's why I'm a born again Christian now...I still like the catholic church but I could never do enough.

Happy Ash Wednesday!

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