No.12 Rising from the Ashes
In His love, Christ gave us the Church, through which he speaks to us for our good, our guidance, our consolation and our fulfilment in this world and the next.
In the season of Lent, we are given the opportunity to undertake something that is essential for each one of us, and necessary for the Church as well. Lent is about opening our lives to God, for that closer walk with the Lord that we say we want to undertake. A time for reflection, for spiritual spring cleaning, for discovery and re-discovery of what really matters and for re-ordering our priorities in relation to what God calls us to. This is what repentance is about. And thus, it is a time for renewal and resolve, for fuller life in Christ, and for a firm rejection of the things of spiritual death. All this we well know.
On Ash Wednesday, at Lent’s commencement, we are signed on our foreheads with a cross of ash by the priest, who solemnly tells us to “Remember man that you are dust and to dust you shall return”. We know that our life on earth will come to an end one day. When we do not know. And then we will have to stand before God. Each one of us will undergo our individual private judgment which has eternal implications. Sobering? But thank God for reminding us about this vital choice each must make, now, while there still is time: the choice between life and death (Deuteronomy 30:19)
What must we do? What must we not do? What must we become? How do we do it?
Mentioning the unmentionable
To many in today’s world, it is impolite, politically incorrect and a downright affront to the dignity and freedom of the individual to speak of sin. Sophists and atheists regard the idea of sin as the legacy of a past founded on ignorance, superstition, fear and guilt. Others see it as a potent device that has long been and still is craftily deployed in a mind game of power and control, orchestrated by manipulative and repressive vested interests in the name of religion and salvation.
The proud, the weak and the self indulgent latch on to this notion. If what is called sin is renamed ‘self-expression’ or ‘my inalienable right to self affirmation’, people would be at liberty to do as they please without any niggling of conscience. To such folk, sin is a word that is taboo, and should be expunged from the lexicon and from our private vocabulary.
Such protestation has so effectively coloured our cultural milieu that it has even affected many who regard themselves as Christian. It is a brave priest, parent or person who dares to mention sin, let alone speak about it at length, whether from the pulpit, in the classroom or even in the home. Most definitely not in the workplace or through the mass media. “Silence is golden!” “Ignorance is bliss!” “Do not upset people or rock the boat!” “Peace, at any price!” Even Catholics tend to minimise the negative and destructive significance of sin. Do we not remember that while Jesus was compassionate and merciful to sinners, and forgave them generously, he told them to go and sin no more? Doesn’t this imply a turning away from sin or at least a sincere intention to do so? What do you think?
Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart. There is no fear of God before his eyes. He so flatters himself in his mind that he knows not his guilt. In his mouth are mischief and deceit. All wisdom is gone. He plots the defeat of goodness as he lies in his bed. He has set his foot on evil way, he clings to what is evil. (Psalm 35(36):1-4. Divine Office, Psalter, Wednesday Morning Prayer, Week 1).
On Ash Wednesday, we are also exhorted to “turn away from sin and to be faithful to the gospel (Mark 1:15).” This provides us with the answer to the questions that relate to choosing between life and death. It underlines the crucial importance of knowing what sin is in order to turn away from it, and that we know Christ’s teaching in order to be faithful to it.
Do we have that knowledge? How many Catholics are knowledgeable in these matters or bother to find out? Older and well read Catholics may know quite a lot, but what about our Catholic youth? Is this essential knowledge faithfully imparted to them by those who should do so? Has there been and is there any dereliction of their sacred duty on the part of parents and teachers and the Catholic education system in the provision of responsible teaching to their children and charges in vital matters of faith? Do we excuse ourselves, pleading lack of opportunity, lack of knowledge, lack of time, etc. etc. Do we try to exonerate ourselves by blaming the “system”?
Of course, we are doing our bit. But can we do more? Be more? Do better? Be better? Is not Lent the time to face ourselves and ask hard questions in the light of Christ? A tall order? Yes, indeed! But what will happen if we say “I pass”? Think about it.
Speak to us, Lord, in Whom and with Whom all things are possible, by your cross and resurrection! In, you, Lord, we place our trust.
Return to me
“But now, declares Yahweh, come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning. Tear your hearts and not your clothes, and come back to Yahweh your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love…” (Joel 2: 12 -13. New Jerusalem Bible)