The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
The days will come…
If you ever wondered why the prophet Isaiah was put to death by his own people, now you know why: He wasn’t afraid to say it like it was.
Thus says the Lord God: Tell my people their wickedness…They seek me day after day, like a nation that has done what is just…They ask me to declare what is due them…They say to me, “Why do we fast, and you do not see it?” Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers…Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance? (Is 58:1-9a)
Isaiah is lamenting that God’s chosen people are sacrificing selfishly, for their own needs and not for God and others. Sound familiar? Ask around; find out for yourself what most people give up for Lent. The answers will sound very discouraging: “Well, I need to shed a few pounds.” “I gave up sweets.” “I gave up beer and women.” “I gave up going to the movies.”
Oh boy, do we all need help!
After celebrating my fourth Ash Wednesday Mass, I went back to the sacristy and was greeted by a gentleman. He told me that he had arrived late for Mass and had just missed the ashes. I told him not to worry, there was going to be another Mass in five minutes. He asked me if he could get them now. I looked up at him and not-so-gently reminded him that he had not just missed the ashes, but that he had missed the opening prayer, the first reading, the psalm, the second reading, the Gospel, my homily (which was his worst offense!) and the distribution of the blessed Ashes. I told him, “The problem isn’t that you arrived late. The problem is that you arrived now!” He wasn’t pleased with my answer. He told me, “Okay…I know I am good with God…I don’t need your ashes!” That was all I needed to hear. I told him, “Of course your good with your god…you just finished creating him!”
If Ash Wednesday was all about ashes, then we would have by now created a drive-thru for all those who wanted to receive them! After all, I hear it all the time; that is, how pressed we are for time! But it is truly amazing how people are pressed for time, especially when it is God’s time!
I don’t receive ashes for the sake of ashes. I receive them for the sake of my soul!
We all have a very hard time giving up what we hold on to for dear life! So, what we are unwilling to lose or sacrifice for Lent, the Lord will strip it for us.
Some people don’t have to think about what they will give up for Lent this year; the Lord has already taken care of it for them. They no longer have to imagine living their life without their mother or father or child. They don’t even have to think twice about living their marriage without their dearly beloved spouse. While some are working on shedding a few pounds during Lent, the Lord is working on creating saints.
Two days before a good friend of mine unexpectedly passed away, I received this text message from them: “Yesterday was a day for me to live Christian love beyond reason and in a radical way…Honestly, in the end it may not make a difference but at least I tried. I will have to tell you all about it the next time I see you.”
I am sure one day I will find out what this person wanted to tell me; when we meet again in Heaven.
Today, I sent her a message: “I miss you.” Why? Because we need to shed some real tears during Lent. We need to experience a real Lent, where the wedding guests mourn because the bridegroom is no longer with us. Getting rid of some extra pounds from Christmas and New Year’s is not Lent. I need to experience real weight and real weight loss, the weight that comes from sin and the loss that comes from grace. Because one day, the honeymoon will be over; the wedding feast will come to an end.
Lent is an ideal time of year to grow through loss.