by Abbot Eugene Hayes, O.Praem.
“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die…”
Words from the Old Testament, from its wisdom literature. For me at least, they remind me of what was to happen today – Ash Wednesday – what we have already entered into this morning, that is the season of Lent, a time of grace given us by the Father, the Father of Whose compassion we were reminded in one of the psalms: “As a father has compassion on his sons, the Lord has pity on those who fear Him, for He knows of what we are made, He remembers that we are dust.” We will be reminded of what the Father remembers always, that we are dust. We are reminded likewise in the Gospel that because of the Father’s compassion, this season of Lent is indeed a grace. We should not enter into this time with long faces as the hypocrites do and as we may be tempted to do, but see it both as a time to die and then at the end of the Lenten journey a time to be born to the new life — the resurrected life which Our Savior leads now and to which He calls us through the program He Himself instituted: a fast not only from things material–food, and drink–but also and especially things malign coming from the heart and the mind; prayer discrete, frequent, more devout; and alms, not so much giving of material things to those in need (although that too) but also that elusive reality of charity, love, effectively willing the true good of the other, in deed and especially in word.
The liturgy prepares us for this season and that task with its selection from the letter of St. James:
“The tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this need not be so.”
So, brothers and sisters, with sentiments such as these let us receive the ashes which remind us of our frailty, but which also remind us of the compassionate God Who knows us and loves us and gives us this time of grace. May we also receive them while recalling each other and asking the Lord for the grace which our neighbor most needs during these days.
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