2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Last Friday was the title feast of our Passionist Congregation. St. Paul of the Cross proclaimed the Friday before Ash Wednesday to be the Solemn Commemoration of the Passion. Somewhere in my theology days, when I first had to preach on this feast, I realized the wisdom of St. Paul of the Cross. It seems as though, if you are going to take a journey, it is essential to know where the journey ends. And Lent is a journey which takes us to the foot of the cross.
Welcome to Lent. Today is Ash Wednesday. It is officially when we begin our journey and our foreheads are marked with ashes for everyone to see. Again, it is the cross before us, right between the eyes. The prophet Joel reminds us to "return to the Lord with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning." And the Gospel of Matthew uses Jesus’ teaching to instruct us about the right attitudes especially in regard to almsgiving, praying and fasting. Lent can be a time of great conversions, of spiritual growth, of getting ourselves back on track. But I sometimes wonder how many times we let the Lord have the first word when it comes to our Lenten resolutions.
What I found in the Liturgy last Friday, was the power of the proclaimed Word; especially the Passion Narrative. It humbles us. It cuts through our pragmatic logic and selfish areas. It sides us as disciples with Jesus while the crowds around him mock him and humiliate him. It compels us with a strong desire to step in and do something for Jesus and with the realization of our powerlessness that we can’t change the historical story. It pulls us into the story to the point of reawakening feelings of caring and compassion where time and daily burdens have numbed us. And at the end of the proclamation, we are left with this unsettling question why the man who spent his life doing good things and helping so many people dies such a tragic and violent death? What is wrong with this? There is something about this narrative which just doesn’t sit right in the core of our soul. And yet the centurion, the Roman outsider understands, "Truly this man was the Son of God."
Ultimately Jesus lays down his life the exact same way he lived his life every day. He pours himself out focused only on his Father’s love and mercy. Of all the things that could have come out of his mouth, he looks at those humiliating him and instead of vengeance he continues to pour out God’s mercy as he says, "Father, forgive them."
Our Lenten Journey has only one destination and that is the death and resurrection of Christ. Lenten season finds us putting considerable energy into fish fry’s, devotions, and personal Lenten practices including more liturgies, penance services, and additional prayer services. It’s always a challenge to remember that it isn’t about what we do for God. It is far more important to know what God has done for us. We must allow God’s grace and redemption to be first. That is why we tell the story, to keep the Passion of Jesus Christ always in our hearts.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.