February 26, 2020 – Ash Wednesday
The following is a homily I delivered on Ash Wednesday in 2017 at the school Mass at Bishop Chatard High School:
I remember watching a movie many years ago (it might have even been in black and white) in which several young children were painting a barn. It was a very hot day and the kids had obviously been at it for quite awhile. They were moaning and groaning as sweat poured off of them.
A woman, presumably the mother of the children, was pacing back and forth as they worked, repeating over and over, “There is joy in sacrifice! There is joy in sacrifice!” Clearly the children had no idea what she was talking about, and I remember not really understanding it either.
However, that phrase now comes to mind for me every Lent – “There is joy in sacrifice!”
Throughout my life, I have set many goals. While pursuing each goal, I discovered something: I usually didn’t enjoy the path it took to get there.
In high school, I loved football. I loved Friday nights. I loved the competition. I didn’t love the preparation – studying scouting reports, three- hour practices, and the physical toll on my body. But I wanted Friday nights, so I did the preparation.
I wanted to be a teacher. I loved kids and wanted to make a difference in their lives. I didn’t love the coursework, or the student teaching, or taking tests to get a license. However, that was the preparation necessary to reach my goal, so I did it.
I wanted to be married and have children of my own. I can now look back on my life – I am married, and have four children and six grandchildren. It’s awesome, but the road was tough. Being married is challenging (being married to Mrs. Wagner is particularly challenging). Having a family is challenging. You have to get up every day and commit to loving those people, and sacrificing your own needs for theirs.
If we want the Friday night lights or a particular job or vocation, it requires sacrifice.
The barn doesn’t get painted if no one is willing to do the work.
Bottom line, we go through the challenges and make sacrifices because the end result is worth it.
The same is true of our faith life. Our goal is eternal life in heaven. That won’t simply be handed to us. We are called to love God and love others, to serve others first, and to work toward a right relationship with God. Those directives all require work. They all require sacrifice.
Thankfully, there is joy in sacrifice.
That is the overriding message of Lent. There is no Easter without Lent. There is no resurrection without the crown of thorns, the scourging, the carrying of the cross, or the crucifixion. Jesus didn’t want to go through all of that! We heard Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying to God, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”
Jesus showed us the way – we must suffer before we can rise.
Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting are all sacrificial. Celebrating Mass, dropping change in a bucket, and eating a soup and bread lunch like we’re doing today – these are all small sacrifices, but they show our willingness to sacrifice in the hope of salvation.
There is no Easter without Lent.
There is joy in sacrifice!