Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Honey, You're a Shipwreck
Ash Wednesday. Such a powerful service to attend. To receive ashes on our forehead to remind us that form dust we come, to dust we shall return. The Church is packed. Isn't that intriguing? On a normal weekend you don't find the pews that full. At most Holy Days of obligation you find them sparse and rarely attended. Then comes the day that reminds us that we are going to die.. and everyone comes. There is something about that unity. That bond. That common ground. A service in which everyone gets the ashes, regardless of faith or background, regardless of standing or sin. We all march forward, we are one. Human. Dying. Hoping for resurrection, but painfully aware of the need to pass through the span of a heartbeat to the gate of eternity.
Jesus reminds us in the Gospel for today that we must be authentic. It's really about the heart isn't it? God isn't interested in empty show or perfect rote. He isn't interested in how much you've memorized, can quote word for word, or if you know the name of every object in the Sacristy. He doesn't care if you're speaking Latin, Hebrew, or Arabic. No, what he cares about is what is on the inside. He wants to get rid of your heart of stone and replace it with one of flesh. He loves you, and he desires that love back. Everything you do then, he wants to be done with authentic love. Not because you have to do this way, but because you are in a relationship and want to make the other person happy.
God says to the people in the book of the Prophet Joel, return to me with all your heart. You know that really is an important thing about relationships, isn't it? How important is it to have your entire heart into it? I'm not talking about those ooey gooey feelings that sometimes come, though those are nice. I'm talking about being 100% committed to the person you love. I knew a guy once whose wife left him. She came back. During that time she was there only physically. Sure they slept together. They ate together. They talked and did things with each other. Yet, her heart was not there at all. It was a hollow and empty relationship, her heart was always with the other man she had grown to love instead. Their relationship never got better and eventually they divorced. You see, the relationship was only one sided. He was putting 100% into it, but she was giving less than all. She was giving the actions... she just wasn't giving the heart.
No matter how we try, a relationship requires that heart felt commitment. That choosing to love even when you don't want to. That giving of yourself completely, even if you're angry. Not just on the surface, but with every part of your being. God wants us to know how much he loves us. He talks about us as his spouse, his love, his very body. All he asks for in return is the heart, all of it. Oh how sometimes we botch that up. We go through the motions.
That's what Lent is about. It's about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving... but from the heart. It's about giving up things that help you draw closer. The Jewish people saw the heart as the core of what makes us human... to be fully human then is to be like God, to be like Christ. So like Christ we go away in silence and prayer, we pray with others, we teach them to pray, we draw close to God every moment. Like Christ we prepare ourselves for difficult times and decisions by fasting. Like Christ we give everything we have, everything we are, both physically and spiritually for those in need. That's what we need to do for Lent. To give up things that are standing in the way of us having a heart of flesh. To remove those things in the way and add those things that will mold us towards Christ.
Yes, Ash Wednesday is just the beginning.. and Lent just a journey on the way... because we are heading to Easter.. and one of these days, all of us are going to die. Every one of us has that in common. Easter for us is coming. It could be today. It could be tomorrow. It could be fifty years from now... it's up to us to be prepared. 40 days in the desert ahead of us, let's set our feet firmly on the right path.
His servant and yours,
"He must increase, I must decrease."