Thursday, March 6, 2014

"O Lord, make haste to help me"

I always find Ash Wednesday to be a day filled, perhaps a bit excessively for my sometimes (too) rigid sensibilities, with celebration. I was joking last night before Mass, as I was reading the Gospel, preparing to proclaim it in the assembly, that Ash Wednesday "brings out my inner Protestant," which is an unfair and uncharitable way of referring to my rigorist tendencies regarding certain matters. It does this by featuring a Gospel that tells us to pray, fast, and give alms in secret, without being "seen" by anyone but God. Immediately after hearing these words we are summoned forward to receive a big, black smear of ashes right in the middle of our foreheads. Indeed, there something at least "dialectical" about this, a tension that needs to be resolved. In his amazing book, The Gospel According to St. Paul: Meditations on His Life and Letters, Cardinal Martini wrote that faith is living the dialectic tension between the seen and the unseen. So this seeming contradiction with which are presented cannot be resolved by a masterful homily, let alone a blog post, but by our living it out through our observance of Lent. This strikes me as wonderfully provocative way to begin this holy season, during which we are invited, called, to engage reality with a renewed attentiveness.

I find that it is always necessary for me to be reminded that "celebrating" the beginning of Lent as we do, especially at a Cathedral church, we do not observe Lent as though Christ is not alive and reigning at the right and of the Father, as though we have not received the Holy Spirit. At least for me, Lent begins in earnest today, in the quietness of the early morning. Christ invites me to engage reality simply as it presents itself to me through people and circumstances I face. I appreciate very much the succinct Lenten message of my bishop, Bishop John Wester: "Lenten sacrifices remind us that we need God."
There is nothing I can do to enhance or improve on that salvific act of love that came about when God the Father gave us his only Son, who in turn suffered, died and rose again so that we might have life eternal.

However, there is something I can do to better embrace this reality in my life, to open myself to the graces of Christ’s resurrection.
As James Kushiner stated it, "A discipline won't bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself." I think Bishop Wester's challenge to "open myself," to get myself out of the way, precisely to "see" how much I am loved, is the challenge of Lent. Besides, I gave up on "making myself" holy a long time ago. For that to happen, I pray, "O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me."

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