Homily – Fr. Michael Casagram – Ash Wednesday

ASH WEDNESDAY—2021                                                   17 February 2021

REND YOUR HEARTS, NOT YOUR GARMENTS

These words used to be posted on the door of the tailor shop when I arrived at Gethsemani some years ago. They carried a note of humor but contain, as good humor will often do, a message of profound truth and love. The season of Lent invites us into a time of inner conversion, a time for allowing our hearts to taste the intimacy of God’s love for each and all of us. As a time for rending our hearts, it is inviting us to allow God’s love to flood our lives, making them manifestations of God’s own life in our world today. More than ever, God wants  to be seen by all peoples as “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness” as we just heard from the prophet Joel.

When Jesus in our gospel tells his disciples: “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing” he is inviting them and all of us to share his very own relationship to his heavenly Father “who sees in secret” and will repay us. God is indeed a hidden God because authentic and living love is not about seeking one’s own aggrandizement but the good of the other. And isn’t this love one with the very presence and action of the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that Jesus is inviting each and all of us to share in God’s very own Trinitarian life.

When we pray we are to go into our inner room, pray to our Father in secret who sees in secret. Jesus speaking to his disciples invites them to enter into the most interior of their own lives, into that part of themselves to which God is most attracted and interested. To dare to go there is to discover what motivates our inners selves and gives them their deepest meaning for it is a participation in God’s very own inner life.

If we fast during Lent as this has long been considered the most appropriate time in the Church year, we are to anoint our heads and wash our faces so as not to appear to be fasting except to our heavenly Father. There is something wonderfully liberating about Jesus’s words for we are no longer bound by what others think of us but only by the love that moves us to undertake our Lenten observance. It is the very same love that moved our all loving God to take on our very own flesh and allow Christ to be sacrificed for love of us.

Entering into the spirit of Lent is then a matter of allowing ourselves to be soaked with a divine compassion, broken open so as to be filled with an infinitely loving presence. In doing so not only will those around us be touched by God’s gift but our world that is so polarized these days, will taste something of the divine plan to encompass the whole of human life with kindness.

Isn’t this what St Paul means in saying that “we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us?” And then those mysterious words where Paul tells us that God “for our sake.. make him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” What love of God has shown for us in these words.  And this love seeks to permeate the whole of our lives, making of each of us living manifestations of this divine presence in our world.

“Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” for this is the season as St Benedict reminds us, that is most conducive to what our lives as monks are called to be. May we have the courage to let God’s own love penetrate the whole of our lives through whatever cracks we can create by our observance.  The ashes we are about to receive on our foreheads is meant to do for just this as we are reminded of our fragility, God’s loving presence moves in to fill our emptiness.

To allow this, we are prepared not only to receive the Eucharist into our bodies but to become Eucharist, a continual act of thanksgiving in a world all too inclined to be self-sufficient rather than self-giving, the sure sign of God’s presence.                                                                                                                                                                         Amen

Joel 2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2; Matt 6:1-6, 16-18