Sunday, February 15, 2015
Ash Wednesday is a wake-up call. It hits us squarely between the eyes, forcing us to face our own mortality and sinfulness.
On Wednesday we will hear Scripture readings that are urgent and vivid. The Prophet Joel tells us that God wants us to return to Him with our whole hearts and to acknowledge our sinfulness with fasting and weeping and mourning. In the Gospel reading Jesus reminds us that our fasting, our prayers and our almsgiving are important ways to atone for our sinfulness, but we must do so in such a way that only God sees what we’re doing. Jesus criticizes pious self displays, not pious actions.
We have black ashes rubbed into our foreheads, ashes from the Palms that we so excitedly waved last year on Palm Sunday. We recite a Litany of Penitence that takes our breath away, or should. It’s a tough day, but take heart! This is one religious day that won’t fall into the clutches of retailers. There aren’t any Hallmark cards celebrating sin and death; no shop windows are decked out with sackcloth and ashes.
On Ash Wednesday we come to church to kneel, to pray, and to ask God’s forgiveness, surrounded by other sinners. Human sin is universal; we all do it, not only Christians. But our church tradition sets aside Ash Wednesday as a particular day to address sin and death. We are ALL sinners, no better and no worse than our brothers and sisters. This is not a day to compete ("my sins are worse than yours are"), but to a day to confess.
Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about death. But death is the great equalizer. In death there are no CEO’s, no janitors; no rich, no poor. All of us are in the hands of the loving God—that's it. The trinkets of honor and position of this world are but dust and ashes. When we remember, to dust we shall return, we remember that we are made for more than trinkets or honor. We are made for life with God - now and forever.
Ash Wednesday is the gateway to Lent. We have forty precious days to open ourselves up to God, to examine ourselves in the presence of the one who created us, knows us, and loves us. We have forty days to face ourselves and learn not to be afraid of our sinfulness. We are dust, but with God’s grace we can learn to live this life more fully, embracing our sinfulness, allowing God to transform us.
Ash Wednesday gives us the opportunity to gather in prayer, not so much to inform God of our needs – but to express our dependence upon Him.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
On Tuesday, February 11th we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. 157 years ago the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl by the name of Bernadette Soubirous (Sew-be-roos) at Lourdes in Southern France. Between January and July of 1858 a woman, dressed in white, belted in blue, with yellow roses at her feet and a golden rosary in her hands, appeared to this simple 14-year-old girl eighteen times. Just like the woman wearing a belted dress with roses who appeared to the peasant Juan Diego in Mexico 300 years before, the Lady who appeared to Bernadette asked for a church to be built on the site.
Only a few years before, Pope Pius the ninth had proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as an infallible teaching. The vision Bernadette encountered told her “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Bernadette was a sickly child of poor parents. Their practice of the Catholic faith was scarcely more than lukewarm. Bernadette could pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Creed, but little more. Through this humble girl, a girl of about the same age that she was when she bore the Lord, Mary revitalized and continues to revitalize the faith of millions of people. Within just a few years of the apparition, people began to flock to Lourdes from other parts of France and from all over the world. The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes became worldwide in 1907.
For a century and a half Lourdes has been a place of pilgrimage and healing, but even more of faith. Of the 30 or 40 cures reported annually, Church authorities have recognized over 60 of them as miraculous. There still may be people who doubt the apparitions of Lourdes, and it is not necessary for our faith to believe. Perhaps the best that can be said to them are the words that introduce the film The Song of Bernadette: “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”
Next Wednesday, February 11th, as we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, in addition to our regular 7:00 AM Mass, we will have a Mass of Healing at noon. During this Mass we will examine the many areas of our lives, body, mind, and spirit that need to be healed. Father will also anoint the ill and pray over those who need healing.