2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Touched by Ashes and Grace
On the Saturday before Ash Wednesday Mark’s gospel told us that Jesus would not tell the chief priests or scribes from whom he received his authority. Jesus had entered Jerusalem, his Passion was near. Does he refuse to answer the question so as not to give away ‘the secret’ which will be spoken by the Roman centurian standing beneath the Cross? In the love of Jesus shown in his Passion, and in the power of the Resurrection, is revealed his authority.
Following the institution narrative, each ‘Eucharistic Prayer for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions’ prays, "Look with favor on the offering of your Church in which we show forth the paschal sacrifice of Christ entrusted to us." The Paschal Sacrifice is entrusted to us. In the symbols and rites of our celebrations we see that Jesus’ Paschal Mystery is our own; our human hopes and fears, longings and sufferings come together with Our Lord’s.
This Ash Wednesday we are attentive to conversion, to those in our parishes who are preparing for Baptism and now come to their forty day retreat, and we are attentive to our own renewing of what happened at our meeting with the Good Shepherd at the waters of refreshment. Just as surely as a compass points us north, so the dying and rising of Jesus, this Paschal Mystery, will be at the heart of our Lenten days.
Our Forty Days are a shared pilgrimage through the desert that will bring us to the land flowing with milk and honey. We are touched with the ashes on the forehead, a sensitive spot because it is there, that same spot, that the sign of the cross was traced upon us at Baptism. We walk on Ash Wednesday like the man who was healed, and who, despite Jesus’ objections, goes to his village and shows himself new from his meeting with Jesus. We will hear the Word of God together, follow Jesus who becomes our guide. We will be buoyed up by the enthusiasm of those celebrating the rites of initiation among us, they in turn will be supported by our prayer and example.
While Lent is a shared journey, the first Lenten gospel from the Beatitudes (Mt. 6:1-6, 16-18) calls to mind interior dispositions. The Beatitudes tell us that Word of Our Lord is the solid foundation of rock upon which we build (Mt 7: 24). So these Lenten days the whisper of the Holy Spirit, a movement of the heart, some divine intuition, these will be the way grace works revealing the intimate love of God for us. It is our food and drink, at times seemingly unfamiliar because of its wrapping. It will nourish and invigorate us during our long fast and Passover with Jesus.
Let us set out now with our companions attentive to their needs and anxious to help them in our prayer and good works. The Holy Spirit is also our companion. Listen for the Word that the Spirit will give to you, the special gift and grace of these days. Drawn to the Paschal Mystery of our Lord’s dying and rising, let us encounter it especially in our own dyings and.risings.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery parish in Baltimore, MD.