For this week’s homily, please play the video below.
For this week’s homily, please play the video below.
Our church was overflowing with people on Ash Wednesday; they came all day for ashes. The Ash Wednesday People.
Is Matthew, the tax collector, whose call is remembered so beautifully in today’s Lenten gospel, one of them? “I came to call sinners,” Jesus says, the people on the edges, the outsiders, the ones you don’t see much in church.
Does Mathew, the tax collector, whom Jesus called, represent them all? During Lent Jesus calls unlikely people besides the “just” to follow him.
Great graces are given in Lent.
Besides individuals whole societies are called to be restored, our first reading today from Isaiah say that::
“Thus says the LORD:
If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined homesteads.” (Isaiah 58.9-14)
On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, ashes are bestowed in the form of a cross. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” A rite inspired by the Book of Genesis.
In the first creation account, Genesis I, God creates the world in 6 days. On the 6th day he creates human beings in his image and likeness, giving them dominion over the earth and its creatures. On the 7th day God rests, finding everything very good.
The second creation account, Genesis 2, offers another version of the creation story. Instead of watery chaos, God creates from a dusty earth, enlivened by a stream of water. “Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed. “ (Genesis 2, 7-8)
God, like a farmer, creates a world that’s a garden, with trees “delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Adam and Eve take fruit from that forbidden tree and begin to feel the consequences immediately.
Where are you?” God asks Adam, hiding naked in the garden. The question is asked, not in judgment or in anger, but from love and concern. “Where are you?” a merciful God asks..
“Where are you?” The sentence for disobedience is already being carried out. The two do not die physically immediately, they live on for hundreds of years, scripture says. But forms of death and a new uneasiness disturb their relationship with each other, with the animal world, and with the earth itself.
They blame each other. “The woman made me do it.” Their relationship with each other has changed. Their relationship with the animal world is broken; they’re betrayed by the wisest of animals, the snake. The earth that gave them abundant food and drink and a delightful beauty becomes hard and unyielding. The first physical death recorded in Genesis is the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Violence enters the world.
When God asks “Where are you?” death has already come. God is not leveling a sentence. God comes in loving kindness to the creature made in his image. A God of mercy comes.
God fashions garments of skin for Adam and Eve as they’re driven from the garden. God promises a woman, a new Eve, will be mother of all the living.
The Jewish scribes who fashioned the ancient creation stories into the Book of Genesis end it with God’s call and promise to Abraham. A merciful God does not abandon the world he made . A new people will bring life to the world.
We symbolize the Genesis story in the ashes, placed on us in the form of a Cross. Jesus Christ comes to enliven all creation. God so loves the world he made.
On Ash Wednesday ashes are placed on our foreheads in the form of a cross as simple words are said: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
A reminder we will die. Our physical life will end, the ashes say; the day and hour unknown.
But there’s more. The ashes are in the form of the cross, which means Jesus Christ changes death. “Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life.” Jesus Christ has made his risen life ours. He promises we will enter into his glory, though his promise is hidden now. We believe it is so..
St. Paul of the Cross once wrote in a letter about mystical death, something to think about today,.
“Life means dying every day as servants and friends of God. ‘We die daily; for you are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God.’ We undergo a mystical death.
“I’m confident you’ll be reborn to new life in the sacred mysteries of Jesus Christ, as you die mystically in Christ more and more each day, in the depths of the Divinity. Let your life be hidden with Christ in God…
“What’s mystical death? It means concentrating on divine life, desiring God, accepting all God sends without worry. It means letting God work in your soul, in the sanctuary of your soul, where no creature, angelic or human, can go. Know that God is working there and being born in you as you mystically die.
“But I’m in a hurry, and this note is getting too mystical, so take it with a grain of salt. It’s hard to understand. “ (Letter, Dec 28, 1758)
Yes, God’s work is hard to understand. God works in unknown ways, hidden yet sure. We accept it, desire it, try to be attentive to it, but still we can only glimpse what God does in his mercy and love.
The saint has to hurry off, he says– like the rest of us. He’s going somewhere and has something to do, someone to see. He tells his correspondent we can’t think about deep things too long. No, we can’t.
“O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?….Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ( 1 Corinthians, 15, 55,57)
“In you, Lord, is our hope. ..We shall dance and rejoice in your mercy.” (Evening Prayer, Office of the Dead)
I like Rembrandt’s drawing of Jesus preaching to a crowd that represents all ages, shapes and sizes of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ disciples, like Peter, James and John are there, but they don’t stand out.Some of his enemies are there, but they don’t stand out either. They’re all there listening, except maybe the little child on the ground playing with something he’s found. Jesus sheds his light on them, even on the little child.
Did Rembrandt find these faces in the people of his neighborhood, ordinary people? If so, this crowd could be us.
All the gospels recall Jesus journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, which we recall in our lenten season. Some women from Galilee follow him. He calls Zachaeus, the tax collector, down from a tree to join him. Follow me, he says to a blind man begging in the same place for years. He called people of every shape and form, sinners, tax-collectors, everyone.
They follow him, not just to see him die, but to go with him to glory. “Come with me this day to paradise, “ Jesus says to the thief on the cross. Our creed says he descends into hell, to those waiting for centuries for the redemption he brings. He calls all generations to follow him.
Following Jesus to glory means taking up our cross each day.“Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily *and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” ( Luke 9, 23-24 )
Jesus speaks to “all”. Everyone in this world has a challenge to take up and a burden to bear. “Take up your cross.” It’s a cross that’s distinctly ours, not the physical cross Jesus bore; it’s the cross we bear. “Do you want to see the cross? Hold out your arms; there it is.” (Wisdom of the Desert)
He blesses those who share his cross. He gives them strength to bear what they have to bear and to carry out the mission they have been given.
Even the little child in Rembrandt’s painting is blessed with his grace, even though he’s in his own world, playing with some little thing, not hearing a word. Even the child is blessed.
It takes time to believe. The disciples of Jesus needed time to believe in him and understand the meaning of his life, death and resurrection. So did the man in today’s gospel from Mark who asks help in his unbelief. So do we.
Where are we now?
Since the Christmas season we have been reading from Mark’s Gospel and his ministry in Galilee, which ends in Chapter 9. Then, he begins his journey to Jerusalem where he says he will die and rise again.
What does Mark’s gospel tell us he has accomplished so far? His disciples still do not understand him, Peter certainly doesn’t. (Mark 8, 27-33) Despite miracles and his inspired teaching, his own family and hometown turn away from him. (Mark 3,1-5; 6, 1-6) Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem come to Galilee to dismiss and condemn him.( Mark 7,1-15)
Yet, Jesus goes on to Jerusalem, with his disciples and–with all of us.
We end our reading of Mark’s Gospel at chapter 9 to begin the lenten season on Ash Wednesday. The lenten season’s readings and feasts takes us, like his disciples, from Galilee to Jerusalem.
Will this lent and Easter turn more people to join him? Maybe. But the world we live in is a lot like Galilee.
Still, like the disciples who first followed him there, we’re going up to Jerusalem.
The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter has been celebrated on February 22nd in the Roman Catholic Church since the 4th century. The ancient Romans remembered their dead this day and so today we remember the Apostle Peter.
His chair’s a teacher’s chair, not a royal throne, symbolically placed behind the main altar of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica. A window bearing the symbol of the Holy Spirit casts its light on the chair and those who sit upon it – Peter the Apostle and those who succeed him.
Today’s a good day to look at our present “chairman” Pope Francis ,who became pope on March 13, 2013 and ask God to keep him strong and faithful as a teacher of the church.
Today is a good time to visit that great church built over the tomb of Peter.
The Passionists celebrate the Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Friday before Ash Wednesday as Lent and Easter begin. If you want to pray this feast with the Passionist, see here.
Here’s St Cyril of Jerusalem on this mystery:
“The Catholic Church glories in every deed of Christ. Her supreme glory, however, is the cross. Well aware of this, Paul says: God forbid that I glory in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!
“At Siloam, there was a sense of wonder, and rightly so: a man born blind recovered his sight. Yet still, how many blind people are left in the world! Lazarus rose from the dead, but even this affected only Lazarus: what of the countless numbers who die because of their sins? Those miraculous loaves fed five thousand people; yet this is a small number compared to all those now still starving in ignorance.
“For us all, however, the cross is the crown of victory. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of humanity!” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)
“A book of life, it teaches the way to life and communicates life,” the Passionist bishop Vincent Strambi writes. “The one who reads this book day and night is blessed.”
“The Passion of Jesus is a “sea of suffering” but also a “sea of love,” St. Paul of the Cross writes. So many do not know the depths of this mystery. “Like people living in a swamp,” he says, an image probably taken from the swamp lands of the Tuscan Maremma in Italy where Paul ministered much of his life.
“We must awaken them from their sad state. We must send them quickly zealous workers, truly poor in spirit and detached from every creature, that by the trumpet of God’s word they might, through the holy Passion of Christ, awaken those who ‘sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
awaken within us a spirit of prayer.
Give us devotion to the Passion of your Son
and the grace of fostering it in others
by our preaching and example,
and we ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.