13 February 2013

Homily - 13 February 2013 - Ash Wednesday

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we enter today into this season of penitence, we cry out with King David, “Be merciful, O God, for we have sinned” (Psalm 51:3).  Hearing the Apostle’s plea to “be reconciled to God,” we come with bowed heads and implore the Lord to spare us (II Corinthians 5:20; cf. Joel 2:17).

We know that the mercies of the Lord are greater than any of our sins.  Why is it, then, that we place such an emphasis on our sins today and throughout the season of Lent?

Saint Augustine teaches us that “sin is not a desire for evil, but a forsaking of good” (On True Religion, 14.27).  In forsaking what is good, we forsake the Good, we forsake God.

Reflecting on the consequences of sin, Saint Bonaventure teaches us: 
Because all sin implies movement away from the changeless Good and toward a perishable good; and movement away from the changeless Good means forsaking supreme power, truth, and goodness; and movement toward a perishable good means loving that good excessively: therefore, by losing original justice, man incurred weakness, ignorance, malice, and concupiscence. 

Again, by forsaking the changeless Good in favor of a perishable good, man becomes unworthy of both.  Hence, by losing original justice, man in his earthly life loses peace of the body, and is made to suffer in many ways from decay and death; and at the end of his life is deprived of the vision of eternal light, losing the beatific glory in both his body and his soul (Breviloquium, III.5.4-5). 

An example will help to illustrate with the Seraphic Doctor means by this.

One warm summer day, I was returning home from a visit with a few friends.  I stopped at a gas station and, after filling up, went inside the store to pay.  As soon as I walked through the door, the cashier said to me, “Will you watch the store?  I need to use the restroom?”  I was a bit surprised, but I agreed.

As waited for her to return, my eyes caught sight of a Snickers ice cream bar, one of the greatest delectables known to man.  A thought occurred to me: I could take that bar and nobody would ever know about it.  I justified the thought in three ways: 1). I was doing her a favor and it is good to be rewarded; 2). It was a hot day and the ice cream would cool me down a bit; and, 3). I was hungry, and we all know that “Snickers really satisfies.”
If you haven't had one, you should.  But not today; it's a day of fast.
Certainly it is good to be rewarded for kind acts; it is good to be cooled on a hot day; and it is good to have our hunger satisfied, but it is never good to obtain these lesser goods by committing a sin.  I was tempted to obtain three lesser goods by forsaking that which is fully good, the moral law.  For the record, not only did I not take the ice cream bar, but I also did not buy one as a small penance.)

In this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI has called us to “an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord” (Porta Fidei, 6).  If we are to return to the Lord with our whole hearts, it is good for us to remember that we are dust and that to dust we shall one day return (cf. Joel 2:2).

Because of our sin we are indeed unworthy of the Lord, but in his great love for us he does not wish us to remain so.  Whoever comes before the Lord freely confessing his sins with a desire to make amends for them will be forgiven and, by God’s grace, be made worthy of him.

Let us, then, seek to examine our consciences honestly and by the light of the Holy Spirit.  We know that, as Saint Bonaventure says, “sin consists in either omitting what divine law prescribes, or committing what it forbids” (Breviloquium, III.8.2).  The Lord Jesus has told us that the heart of the law is love.  “This is my commandment,” he says, “love one another as I love you” (John 15:12).  We must ask the Holy Spirit to help us see the many ways we have failed to love both God and neighbor, the times we have forsaken that which is truly good.

Let us ask the Lord to make us worthy of himself by renewing within us a desire for God.  Today, ever more intently, we beg the Lord: “Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me” (Psalm 51:14).  Amen.

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