Wednesday, February 17, 2021

On Ash Wednesday

            We have been talking recently about the great good of unity in the community. Lent adds another layer to this unity; it calls for unity even as we shed our extra baggage and walk with the Lord to Jerusalem—no coppers in our belts or extra tunics. Complacency has to go, because the poor Christ has a baptism to be baptized with, and we are called to join him. Coincidentally, the prophet Joel had to shake the people of Jerusalem out of their complacency—in his case, the imminent arrival of a famine in the land. It was no longer business as usual. It seems to me that the Lord has chosen this Lent to summon us out of any complacency we may have, faced as we are with so many challenges—Covid-19, political upheaval, death in our midst—we need our communal unity to press on to Jerusalem.

            Joel’s words are like a trumpet blast for us: “…proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber…let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, and say, “Spare, O Lord, your people…” This call to the Church touches all the people of God from the eldest to the youngest. It touches us in a similar way: the seniors among us with their years of monastic experience; the newly arrived who are like infants at the breast, imbibing the wisdom of our forefathers; even those enjoying the embrace of the bridegroom—“His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me…”—are called to rouse themselves; and finally, the priests of the community whose task is to call on the Lord’s mercy on behalf of the community, as they minister the divine mysteries. We must all travel light, for the journey to Jerusalem and to the Father is arduous.

            The whole movement of Lent is, in fact, toward the Father. The Lord wants us to choose the one thing necessary, that is, the Father’s will, as he did, in “one spirit with him,” focused on what really matters, devoting ourselves as a community “…to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.” But even more, he wants us to choose that good zeal St. Benedict spoke of: “being the first to show respect for the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior…” not pursuing what we judge better for ourselves, but instead what we judge better for another. Let us sprinkle this zeal upon the other sacrifices we offer this Lent, that good zeal which creates one heart, one mind, and one voice.

            Lent is a communal activity. It is another layer of our unity as a community. For in our embrace of the Lord’s deprivations, we will find the one thing necessary—becoming one spirit with him and with one another on the journey to the Father. May the Holy Spirit bring this about.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Dom Vincent's homily for this Ash Wednesday.