Even Now…..Ash Wednesday…Lent 2016

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“Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.”—Joel 2:12.

Today,  Christian churches throughout the world begin the solemn celebration of the season of Lent.  Most folks when they think about Lent think of “giving up” something, sacrificing something physical, but if we look at the first reading for Ash Wednesday it say is clearly “rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.”

As we begin these 40 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, what is important to note is what is happening to our heart during this time.

  • Is it making us more compassionate?
  • Are we becoming more aware of our neighbor?
  • Do we see ourselves more clearly as instruments of God in service to our community?

Our world and even parts of our communities suffers from one of the most distressing sins of our time—Apathy.  Like, Jesus, we are driven into the desert to pray and fast for 40 days to give our hearts the time to combat apathy.  This intense time of prayer is meant to give us a chance to connect on a deeper level to God and to each other, thus driving from apathy to passionate response.

  • How can we create a space in our lives to move us from be apathetic to being a com-passionate merciful presence of God?

In this Year of Mercy and this season of Lent, I keep coming back to the quote in paragraph 25 calling for this Year of Mercy.

“I present, therefore, this Extraordinary Jubilee Year dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy which the Father constantly extends to all of us. In this Jubilee Year, let us allow God to surprise us. He never tires of casting open the doors of his heart and of repeating that he loves us and wants to share his love with us. The Church feels the urgent need to proclaim God’s mercy. Her life is authentic and credible only when she becomes a convincing herald of mercy. She knows that her primary task, especially at a moment full of great hopes and signs of contradiction, is to introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s mercy by contemplating the face of Christ. The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ. From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends. The profundity of the mystery surrounding it is as inexhaustible as the richness which springs up from it.”[1]

May this Season of Lent be a time to live out our daily lives in ways that we “allow God to surprise us” and make us more merciful and compassionate to those with whom we live and move and have our being.

[1] Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus: Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Vatican, April 2015. Paragraph 25.

 

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Candlemas & Groundhog’s Day: A Reflection

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.”-a Swedish Proverb

This week in the Church’s worship cycle the symbol of the candle is quite prominent.  Today, Feb 2nd  is the celebration of The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple and the celebration of Candlemas; the blessing of candles used in the home or church.  Wednesday is the feast of St. Blase, a bishop and martyr who died in 316. This ancestor in faith is best known for the Blessing of Throats.  The Blessing of Throats uses two candles in the form of a cross placed on the person’s throat in which the blessing that is invoked calls upon purification. Candlemas Day was also the day when some cultures predicted weather patterns. Farmers believed that the remainder of winter would be the opposite of whatever the weather was like on Candlemas Day. An old English song goes: If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come winter, have another flight; If Candlemas bring clouds and rain, Go winter, and come not again.

Thus if the sun cast a shadow on Candlemas day, more winter was on the way; if there was no shadow, winter was thought to be ending soon. This practice led to the folklore behind “Groundhog’s Day,” which falls on Candlemas Day.

In all these instances, candles/light are the primary symbols.  These symbols are used not to focus on the weather or on the bodily ailment; but to be a reminder of the coming warmth of spring and Easter. They serve as reminders of hope, light and healing.  Candles are symbols of the light of Christ, a light that can be divided/shared, but undimmed.  A Light that is offered in the Temple this day and glows more brightly as we approach the Easter resurrection.  A Light that casts out all darkness and fear.  The lighting of a candle can cause us to become more reflective and to slow down.  The use of candles in the religious tradition reminds us what is important in life. Too often we go through our days, worried about some small things, which either has not happened to us or is beyond our control.  When worry causes the shadow and not the Light, it can cause all kinds of troubles of the mind, strains the heart, distresses the soul and confuses judgment. Worry and anxiety take our focus away from one another.

How we can build community and focus on what’s important, the relationships with our families, friends and coworkers? How do we contribute to the sharing of the Light and making darkness bright?

  • How can we find just a few moments in our day to carve out some quiet space to slow down and give some new perspective on our life, work and ministry?
  • In what ways can we bring to light the gifts and talents of our communities and share them for building and sustaining the Light of the Gospel?