"Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down!"

I realize that this may sound strange, but I live for Lent! Beginning with Ash Wednesday and extending through the TRIDUUM, I think the season of Lent -- through our prayers, hymns, scriptural texts, rituals, smells and sounds -- empowers us to express and celebrate a very unique Catholic culture. And while I appreciate so many of the Lenten "externals," Wednesday's Gospel reminds us to look beyond the externals (upon which the Pharisees thrive) to look a bit more deeply into what truly is of importance -- the inner goodness that dwells within each person -- parishioner, Packer, prisoner, and priest alike.

Throughout our Church history, it seems as though the look and feel of this season has become rather pessimistic over the years. Through negatively biased homilies, it seems as though we are fixated upon seeing the flaws, foibles, darknesses and sins as we look collectively and individually into our Ecclesial mirrors. And yet, that's just one aspect of our human condition. Preface 8 (Lent I) reminds us,

"Each year you give us this JOYFUL season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed. You give us a spirit of loving reverence for you, our Father, and of willing service to our neighbor. As we recall the events that gave us new life in Christ, you bring the image of your Son to perfection within us."

That's pretty good news; indeed 'joyful' news! Empowered by that Lenten theology, when we look in the mirror throughout these 40 days, we should also love what we see. For in the mirror we see what God simply loves so very much -- it's because of that image we see in the mirror that God would send the Son -- to live for us, to die for us. It begs the question of all of us, "what is there in life that I cherish so deeply that I am willing to live or die for that cherished cause; that beloved person?"

For those of you who will be venturing to Old Saint Joseph Church during this holy season, you will see a classic image of the crucified Christ displayed within the upper level of the bell tower. Perhaps this image -- "ever ancient, ever new" -- will serve as a mirror for you; that amidst the struggles we all face in life, we are blessed with the assurance that we are not alone. Not only was Christ himself in our place so many years ago, but that same Christ continues to be present with us in our struggles today. The knowledge of that solidarity is what makes this season a truly 'joyous' season -- filled with hope, love and mercy.

As I gaze upon that image, I cannot help but think of the song I remember singing as a Frater in my earliest days in the novitiate. The hauntingly beautiful melody of "God of Day and God of Darkness" seems to add an ever greater depth to the lyrics of this song which becomes my prayer throughout these 40 days:

When we think how Jesus suffered, of his love for you and me;

we would stand in contemplation of the cross on Calvary.

Then consider that the passion still continues to this day

in the sick and all who suffer, in the poor we turn away.

+ + +

When we see him in his dying, when we hear him call in pain,

we would hurry to assure him that it has not been in vain.

But in our consideration do we truly stop to hear

Jesus' brothers and his sisters who are hungry and so near?

+ + +

Now the thorns were surely painful and his body cloaked in blood,

and his face was marred with spittle, and his hair was caked with mud;

but the sorrow of our Jesus can be seen by Christian eyes

in the ugly and forgotten, in the weak whom men despise.

+ + +

When we leave the cross so lonely on that sad and sacred ground,

we must seek and find our Jesus where today he may be found:

in the clinic, in the prison, near at home or 'cross the sea,

or wherever in deep sadness people wait to be made free.

-- Willard F. Jabusch

As that image of Christ looks down upon the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the imprisoned and the free who will enter our church throughout these 40 days, I can't help but think he might be trying to remind us, "God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care!"

A Blessed Lent to All of You!

Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.


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