I hope you all received ashes this past Wednesday. When we were kids it was the only day of the year we were allowed to have dirty faces. We wore our ashes with pride to show everyone in town we were Catholics.
I read a very interesting reflection about ashes, not the ashes we use on Ash Wednesday but any ashes. Where do they come from? Ashes are what remain of what was once a burning fire. Think of a camp fire or the ashes left in a fireplace or a wood burning stove.
Lent offers us all the opportunity to look into our lives, into our relationships, with God and with others, and face our ashes, those areas in our live that are burnt out, areas no longer a blaze but ashes. What in our lives needs the quickening spark of God’s grace so that ashes can once again be fire? We can wonder, has the flame of our prayer life, our awareness of God, our trust in God gone out? Are we still on fire with a conviction and trust that we are loved by God – a love we see in the crucified Christ or has that fire been diminish by our lack of trust in Christ? Have we allowed feelings of doubt, guilt or shame snuff out that flame?
The Lenten call is ‘be reconciled to God’ has our relationship with God grown cold and are we in need of the sacrament of reconciliation to restore the flame of faith and friendship with God in our lives?
Are our lives still warmed by an enthusiasm for life itself or have we let aging and infirmity robs us of such warmth? Are we in burnout about life itself?
Are there ashes in our relationships with spouses, children, brothers or sisters or friends? Is there a lack of warmth in our care and concern for those we say we love? Is there a lack of warmth in our care and concern for those who need our help, our understanding, our support, our forgiveness?
So many questions and Lent offers us a special time to answer them.
Just as a suggestion; maybe we could all rekindle the fire of gratitude in our lives. We are a blessed people but so often we take our blessings for granted. The tragedy that destroyed Haiti and left so many people without family, homes, schools, hospitals, livelihoods surely makes us appreciate how blessed we are. If we are honest we must admit we take our loved ones for granted, our health and life for granted, our faith for granted. In a way we’ve let these gifts becomes ashes because we no longer appreciate and treasure the warmth they bring to our lives.
Our first reading from the book of Deuteronomy is about gratitude. Most of the book of Deuteronomy is dedicated to proper religious behavior within the Israelite community in the light of what God did for the people in the past. So we have Moses telling the people who come to offer the first fruits of the land to God, they are to make this offering in gratitude for what God has done for them. Moses reminds them of their years of servitude in Egypt and how God heard their voice, saw their affliction and with a mighty hand and outstretched arm and with a terrifying display of power delivered them from slavery and brought them to a land of plenty. As a sign of dependence and gratitude for the soil God gave them, the people were to hand over some of what they had received. After this holy prayer of remembrance and gratitude, the liturgical gesture will be to physically bow down in reverence of the presence of the One and Holy God.
Every Mass, every Eucharist reminds us of our deliverance from the sin and death, a deliverance brought about by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Ideally we are not here to beg or bargain, we are here to thank God for the gift of our deliverance, the gift our reconciliation to God.
Thanksgiving is the theme of every Mass – as you know the very word Eucharist means thanksgiving. At the Eucharist we offer to God the Father the same gift Jesus offered the Father on the altar of the cross – this is my body, this is my blood shed for all so that sins may be forgiven. It is with thanksgiving we offer the Father this holy and living sacrifice. Ideally it is with thanksgiving we offer ourselves to the Father. One with Jesus we say, ‘this is my body, this is my blood, this is my life given to you.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be delivered from any sense of complacency and be gifted with a sense of gratitude. If our sense of gratitude is as cold as ashes we pray for each other that the Spirit of God rekindle these ashes and that we all be graced with a true spirit of gratitude for the countless ways our lives are blessed and graced by the God Who loves us.