2 March 2022 at Saint William and Saint Peter Catholic Churches in Naples, FL
Joel 2, 12-18 + Psalm 51 + 2 Corinthians 5, 20- 6, 2+ Matthew 6, 1-6, 16-18
There is a paradox we must face today. As the Gospel warns us against external signs of devotion, we make one with Ashes. Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are the boot camp of every serious religion, not just Christianity. We must enter this season today with solemnity and determination or not do it at all lest we become fake, nothing more than shallow empty shadows of what we could be. This is no “self-improvement” program. It is a real adventure into a desert place like the one Jesus walked into as the Son of God emerging as the Son of Man.
What happened to him there must eventually happen to us all. He faced down the temptation to use his power and gifts for himself. He accepted the role of a suffering servant as must we all suffer and serve others. The forty-day desert we enter must strip us of distractions, appetites that tempt us for treats and entertainment when we could be caring for others. In the desert of these forty days, we must be quiet and listen carefully to the deepest voice within us waiting to hear the voice of the Spirit. It will never be heard above the noise of this world with its advertisements and seductions to feel better and look better. The blaring sounds of entertainment distract us or silence the cries of those who are hungry and homeless. Those sounds must be silenced so that we can hear and answer their call.
We are all temples called this day to leave the noisy outer courts, enter the inner courts, and on to the sanctuary, the holy of holies. There we must kneel in silence before the tabernacle where God dwells. This is the real prayer in which God can speak because we are silent and listen. This is how and where we discover who we really are and why God has called us into existence, given us each a mission, and loved us into the future. Without this, we will never know ourselves and simply be trapped into believing that we are not good enough or are only what others think of us. What matters is what God thinks of us.
This season is serious for us. It is as serious as the biopsy of a tumor might be for the sick. It is the season when we will discover what we are made of in the life-long contest with evil. It is the season that may predict how that contest will end in our victory or our defeat. In that Palestinian desert, Jesus is challenged to follow a path different from the one willed by his Father. It is not different for us. Our culture offers infinite possibilities for remaking ourselves with a priority put on personal fulfillment and material success. We are challenged to live “not on bread alone” or money alone but on the Word of God.
In the end, the same Spirit that drove Jesus into the desert drives, protects, and inspires him to emerge from the desert renewed, strengthened, and ready for his journey to Jerusalem which is not a place, but the Kingdom of God. It can be the same for us filled with that same Spirit. This is the Lenten journey ever remembered and ever renewed. Don’t take these Ashes if you don’t mean to take the journey.