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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday - My Annual Dismay

It's Ash Wednesday again. And as I sat in church for Mass and ashes, I was reminded of my experience last year.

My first post regarding Ash Wednesday pertained to the bioethical importance of Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. You can find that here: http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com/2012/02/ash-wednesday-and-authentic-bioethics.html

The second post compared the homily I heard on Ash Wednesday to the one I heard the following Sunday, the first being rather lame and the second being a rather good Ash Wednesday sermon even if it was delivered for a Sunday. You can find that one here: http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com/2012/02/bioethics-and-tale-of-two-sermons.html

It was this post that I was thinking about today. Especially the first sentence. The first paragraph, in fact, which went like this:

I have to admit, sometimes I rue going to church on Ash Wednesday. More often than not because of my work schedule, I have to go to a parish not my own and end up with a defective homily. My own parish is devoted to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and the homilies are usually excellent. If anything, the (minor) defects I encounter -- in my opinion, which is to say I could be wrong -- tend toward excessive rigor, but even then I would rather have the homilist set the bar too high than too low. Because when it's set too low, I (and I would think most people) tend to take advantage of the low mark.
Today was another low-mark homily, although it was at a different church from last year. Last year I went to a suburban parish on my route to the train station. A relatively new building but still using traditional forms and materials on the outside, it is thoroughly modern on the inside. This year I went to a gorgeous old church in the city - beautiful columns, wonderful stained glass, an army of saint statues, and the original ornate high altar still in tact. On the down side, this church uses electric votive candles (my opinion of which you can read about here, one of my more fun posts) and in character is just as modern as the other church.

This year's homily was about 60% of the way to being good. He started with a brief consideration of the pope's recent retirement announcement and the fact that the pope did a substantial examination of conscience before making his decision. And he related it to the purpose of Lent, and how we would use this season wisely by examining our own consciences and weeding out the things that are "less than good." All that, basically, was fine.

He could have gotten 85% of the way to good by adding three little words to his exhortations and repeating them once: Go to confession. (Ok, that's two little words and one biggish one.) Man, if there were ever a brief homily that built up to the message of going to confession, his was it. But he didn't get to the punchline. Actually, I think he never mentioned the word "sin" either. Oh well. A better explanation as to "why" all this is important would have gotten him the rest of the way, I think.

You can see my expectations are not really all that high. This is the season of penance. Examine your conscience. Go to confession. We have a duty to pursue holiness and combat sin, and all the more do we need to do so considering how the church is misunderstood and maligned in the world. Ta-da.

Today, however, decided I would like to hear a homily about certain passages in the readings for the Ordinary Form. The first was from Joel, in which he commends fasting and prayer and penances of various kinds and then pleads with God, "Between the porch and the altar the priests the Lord's ministers shall weep, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people: and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God?" It occurs to me that the Church is facing the same sort of difficulties for which Joel recommended penances. We are held in reproach by secular forces, who constantly taunt us about believing in God, and so doing penances seems appropriate.

The second reading was from Paul where he talks about Christians being ambassadors of Christ. Again, we are ambassadors in an alien land with a hostile government.

Anyway, I'm glad I didn't hear another "don't give up something for Lent, do something positive instead" homily.

I don't think I will ever hear the homily I just described though. Mainly because I'm not in the church I want to be in on most Ash Wednesdays.
I'll have to ask my wife what she heard.

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