Ash Wednesday, 2016
“Be not ashamed to repent of the sins you were not ashamed to commit.”
Eusebius, circa 325AD
‘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
Today is the beginning of Lent. For the next forty days we are called to conversion of heart. It is a time of penance. With the psalmist we cry out,
Have mercy on me, O God, in your faithful love,
in your great tenderness wipe away my offences,
wash me clean from my guilt, purify me from my sin.
Psalm 51: 1 – 2
Lent is also a time of renewal and purification. It is a time to remember that we came from the earth and to the earth we will return or as the minister recites as he or she places ashes on our forehead, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” But there is more. Today is the remembrance of that first sin committed by our forbearers, Adam and Eve and the promise of God that he would not abandon their progeny. He would send us his very own son.
During these next forty days God wants us to detach ourselves from earthly matters and return to him. He wants us to recognize and confess our sins. He calls us to do penance, to realize genuine sorrow, to pray for forgiveness and the strength to take concrete steps to turn away from these sins and to change our lives, starting again and improving each day. But there is still more.
In the words of an ancient writer or writers of the early days of Christianity collectively known as Eusebius of Gaul:
“Forget your former manner of life and the evil blandishments and seductions of the world. Put behind you all desires which can precipitate a soul from the contemplation of heavenly mysteries to the very depths of hell. … Let your only concern be to make amends for your past sins, as though each day were to be the day of your passing out of this world. What will it have profited a person … to have lived in this world eating and feasting luxuriously? Where are they now, who lived only for the enjoyments and all these pleasures were snatched away and swept into oblivion.” (Eusebius, circa 325AD: 656)
God does not require gold or silver, but only a contrite heart. As Eusebius continues:
“Be not ashamed to repent of the sins you were not ashamed to commit. Because in hell the time to make amends for your sins and in death the time to confess them will be no more, make provision now for the future by the merits of good works, make satisfaction for your sins before you are called to stand at the tribunal of God’s judgment. Examine your conscience in regard to your past sins. Strive to set all things aright by daily acts of penance, so that, when the day of death and judgment arrives, you will not be confounded and put to shame by your iniquities and crimes as they rise up threateningly and repulsively before you.” (ibid)
God wants us, as Benedict tells us, “to listen with the ear of our hearts” to the teachings of his son, Jesus. Like Moses with the wandering Hebrews at the foot of Mt. Sinai, Jesus teaches that we should love the Father with our whole hearts, our whole souls, our whole minds, and our whole strength. We should also love our brothers and sisters just as we love ourselves. If we live out this teaching our lives will be transformed or as Eusebius puts it “all things will be set aright.” Lent is the season to realize this transformation by sharing our “bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked,” binding up the wounds of the afflicted. (Isaiah 58: 7) This transformation is also realized by our prayers, contrition and fasting – not simply of depriving ourselves of a simple delicacy – but of removing from our presence “oppression, false accusation and malicious speech.” (Isaiah 58: 9) And so this Lent, let us enter into the grounds of our very being and find God by giving alms, with prayer and fasting in a spirit of love and gratitude for his many graces.
Sermon 52: Exhortation to Penitents: PLS III, 656-657
Milton Lopes is a Spiritual Director and Dream Group Leader in the Jungian Tradition. He is also the author of Lenten Reflections From the Desert to the Resurrection, published by Westbow Press, www.westbowpress.com. This title is also available through www.Amazon.com your local bookseller or preferred on-line retailer. Milton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.thyspirt.com