Yesterday at Ash Wednesday Mass, the priest gave a terrific homily. He spoke about the sacrifices we make during Lent and relayed his own longing. The day before, on Mardis Gras, he went out to breakfast, one of his favorite meals, but he gives that up for Lent. Upon waking Ash Wednesday morning, he could taste the maple syrup and the pancakes and all that makes up that scrumptious meal. Naturally, with his descriptive, lively storytelling, the congregation laughed. He challenged us, “We should desire God in the same way. In the same way that we desire the best things of this earth, we should desire God. We should want Him above all else.”
What is it that keeps us from desiring God so completely? The answer arrived after the distribution of the ashes.
I sat towards the back of the church, but could easily see the altar. The celebrant, a bald man somewhere in his 60’s stood behind the altar. It was the same man who had preached and reached me so effectively only minutes before, but now he looked different.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the dark cross of ashes resting squarely in the middle of his forehead. I mean, really, it was a great distraction – his bald head and the dark cross screaming from the altar, “Look at me!”
It struck me, I was distracted by his ashes, but he was acting like nothing was going on. He celebrated the Liturgy of the Eucharist as he did any day of the week, with great reverence. But me, I kept looking at that cross on his forehead.
Then I thought, “Isn’t that often what sin is like?” We walk around noticing everyone else’s mark and yet we can’t see our own. “Wow! That guy got it from a heavy hand. Was it from the priest or the extraordinary minister? Hmmm…She escaped with little damage. Whoa! Look at that one!” All the while, we have no idea what marks us. Those around us, especially those closest to us, know our sins often better than we do ourselves. If we’d dare, we’d ask, but I venture a guess, we might not like the answer. We’d rather not know the condition of our foreheads.
Lent is a time to look in the mirror and examine the sin in our own lives – to look closely at the mark on our foreheads that everyone can see – and instead of ignoring it, we must root it out. We must dig deep to affect a change. Prayer and the sacraments enlighten that view. Fasting and making sacrifices enhance the effects of prayer. Let’s take this time of Lent to recollect and really know what keeps us from desiring God above all. An honest look at our relationship with God – what it is and what we want it to be – will reveal what is hidden.
So today, I invite you to look in the mirror and see what others see. Invite the Holy Spirit to lead you and show you what our Heavenly Father sees which keeps you from Him, and let prayer and fasting and the sacraments to draw ever more closely to Him.
We adore you O Christ, and we bless you because by your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world! Anne