March 4, 2020
The following homily was originally delivered at a Bishop Chatard High School Mass in 2016:
Two different images of Lent are offered to us in the readings of the day:
The first comes from the Book of the Prophet Jonah: …the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his nobles: “Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; every man shall turn from his evil way… (Jonah 3:1-10)
Wow! That is an intense image. It is the response of a king trying to save his kingdom from the wrath of a vengeful God. Perhaps that is why we struggle to relate to this Lenten image; that is not who we know God to be.
We can never imagine ourselves having to respond with such intensity to the Lenten call to repent.
However, I would challenge you to consider whether or not we have gone too far in the opposite direction. Are we taking the call to repent seriously enough?
I will use Ash Wednesday as an example: How many of us rushed to the bathroom after Mass on Ash Wednesday to remove the ashes from our foreheads? We were more concerned about how we looked than in what the ashes symbolized. Are we too full of ourselves to acknowledge that we are sinners?
How many of us found ways to bypass the soup and bread offered at lunch, using the excuse, “I don’t really like soup” or “That’s not enough food for me”? Don’t we realize it is not about the soup, but rather about making a small sacrifice?
How many of us let the collection basket go by us, thinking that we might need that two or three dollars in our pocket for something we want later?
So we have two extremes: On the one hand, we have a king wearing sackcloth, sitting in ashes, and refusing to eat anything. He does this to acknowledge his sinfulness and demonstrate his desire to make things right with God.
On the other hand, we have the modern Christian, who struggles to pray, fast, and give alms for even one day. He struggles to admit his sinfulness and finds it difficult to think outside of himself.
In today’s Gospel that we hear a simple Lenten message: …she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here…at the preaching of Jonah they repented; there is something greater than Jonah here. (Luke 11:29-32)
There is something greater than ourselves here. Lent calls us to humility; we are nothing without God.
During Lent, we attempt to make things right with Him. We acknowledge that we have fallen away, that we spend too much of our time focused on ourselves. We sacrifice, and in so doing, redirect more of our efforts toward God.
No need to wear sackcloth and sit in ashes, but we can at least take small steps toward making things right. In so doing, we begin to tilt the scales in His favor.
He must increase; I must decrease. (John 3:30)