FEBRUARY 17, 2010- ASH WEDNESDAY: JOEL 2:12-18; 2 COR 5:2O-6:2; MT 6:1-6, 16-18

 

EVEN NOW, SAYS THE LORD, RETURN TO ME WITH YOUR WHOLE HEART WITH FASTING, AND WEEPING, AND MOURNING; REND YOUR HEARTS, NOT YOUR GARMENTS. We begin Lent today with three texts that confront us with the challenges and opportunities of this season of grace. Perhaps the first lesson to learn from the words the prophet Joel proclaimed to his people, disheartened, suffering from the plague that was giving rise to panic, is to recognize how dependent and vulnerable we are in this world. Because we so readily repress and in effect deny the dangers that threaten us once they are past, when disaster does strike it finds us unready, lacking in trust and the confidence needed effectively to meet the threats to survival and happiness. Joel’s message details the practices and dispositions calculated to overcome the immanent danger and sense of helpless despair. He interprets the plague as a testing and so recognizes a possible solution to the current plight of the people. By fasting, prayer, acknowledgment of faults and confession of sins from the heart there is access to the favor of God for he is merciful. He holds out renewed hope for God’s blessing. Upon receiving a welcoming response to his message, the prophet reports that his trust was rewarded with success as the final words of this passage assure us: “Then the Lord was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.”

 

Experience teaches those who can learn from history that this same pattern is repeated age after age in the course of time. A discerning reflection on individual lives and on the vicissitude of nations reveals that under varying forms and due to various causes every human being and every society is subject to threatening events that are experienced as unexpected, and that disrupt prosperity and happiness, on occasion they even shake the very foundations of life. Some causes of misery remain the same, such as disease and natural disasters such as occurred recently in Haiti; others are social such as poverty; still others like war are political, and the list continues. As senator Daniel Moynihan observed after long experience in dealing with our nations approach to its problems: “Many fail to realize that the world is a dangerous place.” To recognize this fact nothing is more helpful than to enter the heart and to reflect on the mystery of existence, of history in light of revelation and God’s prophetic word. Such is the invitation extended to us once again today by the message of the prophet.

 

Saint Paul follows up this directive by extending to us the confident assurance that God, through Jesus, offers his grace to us so that by faith in our Savior and obedience to his teaching we can not only be reconciled with God but even attain to his holiness. Finally our Lord himself takes up the same prophetic word, emphasizing the need for sincerity of purpose, directing our whole effort to conformity with God’s plan. When you fast and pray do so in the presence of God “your Father who is hidden, and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

 

Our Eucharist on this Ash Wednesday is offered as a source of confidence and of strength that as we undertake the practices of Lent we are not left to our own weak resources but are accompanied by the one who so loves us that even now “he gives his beloved Son that we might have everlasting life.”  &     


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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