Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Homily for Ash Wednesday


                I can stand here and suggest to you very clever ways to fast and to enhance your Lenten devotions of prayer and almsgiving, but I can't imagine you need or want that. I could elaborate on various ways to take the reading from Joel to heart imploring you to turn to the Lord, but you are on retreat with your face turned toward the Lord already. I could speak about the contrasting views within the readings, but that doesn't seem to be the point. For me, the second reading holds the key when Paul says: Be reconciled to God. Don't receive the grace of God in vain.
          When I was in Australia I made my 30-day retreat amid the vintage grapes of a vineyard. I took on a project of clearing a field filled with fallen brush that had sharp, pointy thorns sticking out of each branch. I was cut mightily several times a day, but those branches were not as dangerous as the venomous brown snakes or the deadly red stripe spiders or as messy as mis-stepping into cow patties. Day by day I worked to clean up the field - moving gingerly with my fears.
          Each branch I added to the pile represented a memory for me. The thick logs were long familiar memories that seemed like old friends; the younger, fresher, green branches cut more sharply and stung into my skin. I prayerfully used this time to examine the painful memories that I carried. Some were much too painful to touch and I was unwilling to focus upon them; others were hurtful, but I was now used to the hurt. I plodded along and I knew Christ was laboring alongside me. He knew how deep the hurts were and I knew he wanted to talk about them and was patient with me. I resisted fiercely. One of my hopes for the retreat was to be able to forgive my parents. I had been in the process of doing that for years, but always unsuccessfully. My parents are good parents, but I held some resentments about choices they made and didn't make. I wanted a better life for me and a better life for them and I held onto frustration and great disappointment for far too long.
          I had a breakthrough one day during prayer I was invited to a mansion party that Jesus was throwing. He wanted me there. I looked around and saw few people I knew. I thought I would have know some. He excused himself because he caught the eye of an extraordinarily beautiful woman across the room who wanted to dance with him. She was stunning and radiant. With such grace and poise, she warmly gazed at Jesus who commanded her attention. All of a sudden, my throat thickened and my stomach tightened and I was dazed and confused at the same time that I had the utmost clarity. Jesus led her over to me and said this woman found you so attractive, she wants to dance with you. She wonders who you are. We both had to search our memories because on the surface we were unrecognizable to each other. Gripped with fear, I started to tell Jesus that I couldn't do it, and he said, "Don't say a word," and he handed me to her. I sobbed and broke down. I knew even before she held me in her arms that she was my mother. She was beautiful. She appeared to me as she did through the eyes of Jesus. She was free of her worldly burdens and she moved with great freedom. She appeared as lovely as I once viewed her. The loving gaze of Jesus perfected her and made her so desirable. Jesus restored my mother to me and gave us back to each other. He reconciled our hearts so we could love each other the way Jesus loves each of us.
          Another stunning woman ran over to me and wanted to dance. She was graceful and nimble and was bounding with joy. My deceased sister, Dawn Mari, was so happy to see me once again. She was free from the body that held her captive in her earthly life. Though she had mental retardation on earth, she was just perfect to Jesus in heaven. Then Jesus pointed to a ruggedly handsome man who was inwardly proud of me. My father waited so long for me to return to him to share his joy of watching me grow. My other siblings were there as well, but we were all far different to Jesus than we see each other on earth. The way Jesus knows us is how he wants us to know each other. He doesn't want us to get trapped with mundane and petty associations. He wants us to live as we see the best in each other. Jesus took so many memories and healed them in a way that is indescribable.
          Another very painful memory was my implosion when two friends hurt me badly. I have always accepted that I was mostly the cause for this hurt - because they told me so, but when Jesus firmly intruded into my prayer, it became clear that he had a different point of view. He showed me that he was angry with these two former friends because they sinned against me, not I to them, and that I had right to be angry with them. He shifted the whole paradigm of that memory around - He re-membered it  - for me so that when I recall it today, I feel his grace and have a broader insight into the events. He has freed me from the shackles I place unknowingly around myself. He showed me I was not responsible, but was a victim of their anger. He straightened out the power imbalance that kept me paralyzed and immobilized. Now I can act with greater freedom and ease and I can stand proudly because I did the best I could - for me and for my friends. That is all he asks us for.
          Jesus wants to get deep into our memories so he can reconcile them to God. This is why he keeps bringing us distractions in prayer. They are not distractions, but the substance of our prayer that he wants to look at with us. We can't look at them alone because we will replicate our worldview and judgments. He needs space to clear out those things we wrongly remember to replace them with that which he wants us to remember.
          Once we reconcile those memories and difficult situations, other aspects of our lives become reconciled. I have tried for years to forgive my parents and I finally have done so. Once reconciled, we can begin anew. We can learn to see each other in the way Jesus sees us. The kingdom is furthered. This is the message of St. Paul: If we reconcile with one another, we are reconciled to God. Life is happier and we learn to see some beautiful people amid some beautiful events. Being reconciled means that we learn to love with a love like God's.
          To this day, I love tearing down vines. I enjoy the cuts and scrapes along the way. I want to make room for Christ to enter into our lives. This Lent, let's give him some room to do some things that can only be described as miracles. You are precious to him. You are a miracle. Let him love you with that gaze that transforms every aspect of your life. His glory already radiates throughout you. Thanks be to God.