Homilies - March 2011

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Ash Wednesday: March 9, 2011 by Fr. Simon

Ash Wednesday

  • March 9, 2011
  • by Fr. Simon
  • Joel 2:12-18
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20–6:2
  • Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Today’s first and third readings present a curious dichotomy between the issue of public fasting and the call to fast in secret so the no one but your heavenly Father in heaven will know. Both are wholly right but how do we reconcile them? This wonderful cry of a distraught Father God, portrayed for us by the prophet Joel, is a cry from God to the whole people. The whole people is in sin, the whole people has defected. Yes, everywhere among those people are many good ones who are suffering on account of the others but the people are known collectively; the good and the pious are not noticed or singled out. Their brothers and sisters bring the common curse of sin and destruction upon them.

Is Joel so out of place, so out of date today? We live in an increasingly secular society – yes, even in America – and because we look like everyone else, dress like everyone else, drive and compute like everyone else, are logged on to everyone else Facebook, and behave like everyone else, stuff our faces with food like everyone else (I include myself, of course), knock back the booze like it was the last bottle, like everyone else, so people think we are just like everyone else, like them – except that many of them are on an alternative fast for health and good looks – and hardly or never go to church… like almost everyone else.

Joel proclaims: “Sound the trumpet in Zion!” Jesus says, “So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you”. There seems to be conflict here. Jesus seems to be talking about those individual penances and fasts which are special to ourselves. During this season, we monks have to hand in a list of our proposed penitential exercises, so Br. Ignacio will give up eating grapefruits, Fr. Philip will start eating real food again. This is all right and proper in the eyes of the Lord but it has no propaganda value. It is probably not even having an effect on our brethren, let alone on the churchman in the street, or the casual non-Christian on South Dakota Avenue. Yes, in the eyes of God and his church it is indeed meritorious, though we ourselves might eschew any suggestions of merit. It is truly helping to build up Christ’s church but it has no propaganda value, it is not proclaiming, there is no trumpet heard on Webster Street. No one outside of our closed ranks is going to be able to say, “Look at those Catholics, those monks, how they fast. Aren’t they thin! Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?” Or “They seem to have much more recourse to God than we do and, come to think of it, they show remarkable love of each other and of their neighbor. So blow your saxophone, Johnny, and let people know there’s a fast goin’ on to praise the Lord and to show that He really matters in our world, and that He forgives our sins.

St. Paul explains why we must do this, why we must work together and support each other in our fasts. “We are ambassadors for Christ,” he says. It is as though God were appealing through us.”. In His name we make the appeal to others: “Be reconciled to God”. But how can we appeal if our own lives are so cluttered and our penitential witness so disunited? God even went so far as to make His own Son him to be sin for us even though “He did not know sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”. Then Paul, quoting Isaiah says: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation”. So let’s get signed up with our ashes now and then we can proclaim a fast with the humility of our foreheads and the trumpet of our hearts.

Prior Simon McGurk
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