Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Many Shades of Ashen Grey on This, The Holiest of Wednesday's

Today as I was vesting for the morning celebration of Ash Wednesday, I overheard a conversation about a parishioner's daughter who was struck by a sudden illness while attending school at Florida State University. Without knowing the specifics of the condition, apparently blood has to be drained from her right arm, plasma has to be added to it, and than it will be sent back into this appendage. From the sounds of it, this must be a somewhat serious condition. As we gathered at the baptismal font, I saw the parishioner in question, Adam, talking with our pastor, Fr. Robert. Fr. Robert was expressing his concern. I immediately went over to express my own. From what Adam shared with us, his daughters immune system had been compromised due to carrying a heavy load of stress, making her susceptible to this relatively serious ailment. The concern in his face was marked. I knew this because I've seen Adam on a number of occasions and know him to be very even-keeled, not expressing too much emotion. There was little doubt in my mind as he reached out to take my hand and shake it that this was a Father who was very worried for his little girl.

As I began the celebration and looked out at where Adam was seated, I wondered, "what does Ash Wednesday mean for Adam?" What does the call to, "repent, and believe the Good News" imply for him and his situation? By extension, what does it imply for all of the persons who packed the Church this day (which was quite surprising, I might add). The universal "shade of grey" that we associate with Ash Wednesday is turning away from personal sins such as the standard litany of, lust, greed, impatience, avarice, sloth, hatred, or sins agains one or more of the Ten Commandments. Yet, what I realized by looking out at Adam, and considering what this day means for him, is that Ash Wednesday, reflected in the ashen look of worry and concern on his face, is about repenting of something far more primordial or deep. It occurred to me that before we take stock of our personal sins and repent of them, perhaps we must "repent", or turn away, insofar as we are able, from the age-old temptation to despair of life as little more than a random occurrence of either fortunate or unfortunate events that eventually comes to little or nothing at best, or, that ends in utter oblivion at worst. As I looked at Adam and the many persons who packed our Church today, I believe that they were here not just to repent of personal sins, but to cling to hope in the midst of so much difficulty, challenge, trial, heartache, pain, and tension swirling in our world right now. I imagine the current state of the economy, job market, and all the confusion about how to fix things are some of the main motivators for observing Ash Wednesday.

In Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians (today's second reading from Mass), Paul tells us that Jesus was "made sin for us" so that we might become the "righteousness of God" in him (2 Cor. 5:21). What is so important about this statement with regard to holding on to hope in the midst of seemingly impenetrable darkness, is that Jesus became sin so as to assure us that there is absolutely no experience under the sun that can definitively cut us off from God's presence. There is nothing we can do to cause God to withdraw God's forgiving, supportive, and healing hand. Furthermore, there is nothing that life can do to separate us or our loved one's from God's all-encompassing embrace or relentless chase of us. Through Adam's experience, and what I imagine to be the experience of so many others who packed St. Patrick's Church today, I'm coming to believe that there are "many shades of ashen grey" that make Ash Wednesday a solemn day of the recognition that we are called to a radical renewal of hope, despite all the varied reasons that may very well threaten it. Pat, TOR