Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian penitential season of Lent. In honor of which, I'll re-post my traditional Lenten meditation. . .


During Lent, I am struck again and again with the conviction that the Christian life is a lot more serious than I generally treat it as being. It is so easy to play at Christianity – to talk the jargon, do the theology, know the Scriptures, even – to get real good at the outward appearances, but miss the inner transformation, the knowledge of God.


“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us” (from The Weight of Glory, by CS Lewis)

Alas; and I am the most half-hearted of all. I cannot escape the conviction that God is in deadly earnest about a way of life that I’m content to dabble in at my leisure. But –

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” (from The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

I just want to drop the pretenses. I know who I am before God; I’m certainly not fooling God.

“Before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:13)


O Lord, have mercy. I may fool myself, but I don’t fool you. You “discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12); “you know my inmost being” (ref. Psalm 139:13-16).

Alas, alas. "Woe is me, for I am undone!" (Isaiah 6:5). Not a pretty picture, is it? And yet you won’t let go of me; you won’t leave me to my own devices, no matter how half-hearted I am. O Lord, I only want to know you. And yet I find that the biggest obstacle to my knowing you is. . . myself. I ought to pray, but I am irresolute. Too often, I go through the motions, “warmed from without, but not aflame within” (Imitation of Christ 3:2).

And yet, O Lord, you call me on, for reasons I can’t discern, except that your love and mercy are unfathomable. . .


  1. Heard that an Episcopal church in MA is giving out "ashes to go" this morning, for those without enough time to sit through a service.


  2. Thank you, Craig, for another reminder. Fat Tuesday was the first... and really not quite so spiritual one.

    Good grief, Sully, I wonder why they don't just make them available online.

  3. Suldog - I was a little disappointed that my parish eliminated the 6:30AM mass, so I couldn't get ashes before work.

    I suppose, tho, that, the state of the world being what it is, we should be glad that the folks in question are willing to get ashes at all. . . A little penitence is better than none at all, right?

    Skip - 1F came by last night with a couple bottles of wine that she 'had to get rid of before Lent'. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. . .

  4. Be blessed in your observances, friend!

  5. i do like a time of reflection in this season.

  6. Ashes to ashes
    Dust to Dust
    If it twernt for your Butt Hole
    Your belly would bust!

  7. Flutter - Thank you, friend. . .

    Lime - It's a good time for that, isn't it?

    G-Man - Ummmmm. . . yeah. . . Unless, you know, you've had a colostomy, or something. . .

  8. Sometimes I truly wonder what difference that the end game (Eternal Life) really means? Shouldn't a life well lived on earth be enough?

  9. Hi, Schweeney!

    Interesting question, and there's no doubt a lengthy discussion to be had over it. A few random thoughts:

    - I keep thinking of Nietzsche's "if God doesn't exist, then nothing is forbidden". A different question than eternal life, I understand, but not unrelated, I think. . . EL (if I can be so glib) seems necessary, on one level, as an incentive to morality. . .

    - We seem to be made for relationship, and relationship with God most especially; so EL also seems to correspond to something deep and fundamental about our human nature. . .

    - The way we feel death as an affront, and the virtually innate conviction of human beings the world over, across cultural lines, that this life can't be 'all there is'. As CS Lewis said, it would be strange, indeed, if, being hungry, there was no such thing as food. . .

    - And yet, I understand the line of thought that would question the integrity of a world-view that requires a reward, or we won't be good. . .

    - Peter Kreeft has written very insightfully, and perhaps relevantly to this conversation, in his book, Love Is Stronger Than Death. . .

    You do understand, right, that this is one of those 'Big Questions' that doesn't really admit of being definitively answered, much less adequately discussed, in comment-space?


  10. Every Ash Wednesday, I ponder the seeming contradiction in walking out of church with ashes when we've just read the Gospel about not letting our penitence be known to anyone but God. But, the practice arose when everyone in the village or neighborhood would have worn ashes, so it's less of a "look how holy I am" message in that context. And, it is a small part of the entire liturgy for Ash Wednesday, when we participate again Christ's sacrificial act of worship of the Father.

    "Ashes to Go", though? I passed it in front of our Episcopal brethren's church on the way to noon Mass. That really pares it all the way down to the show only, doesn't it?

  11. Fed - That's actually quite perceptive; that never occurred to me. . .

    And yeah, I get what you're saying about 'drive-by Ashes'; but I try to be 'ecumenically sensitive'. . .


  12. Is the priest's responsibility to serve God or serve man?
    I ask because this weekend a friend of mine was denied Holy Communion at her mother's funeral (he covered the chalice and then left the altar when she came up to eulogize) because she lives with another woman.
    I would like to address the points you made above regarding EL but I am so mad now I could spit.
    FWIW I don't believe in carrot and stick religion (or morality).

  13. Schweeney - I'm certainly no theologian, but as I understand it, the answer would be 'both'; he's a mediator between God and man, bringing the people to God, and God to the people.

    All Christians (not just priests) are charged to 'speak the Truth in Love', and it is all too easy to fail on either side, either being so concerned for Love that we neglect the Truth, or, conversely, hammering the Truth to the exclusion of Love. It ain't an easy line to walk. . .

  14. Hmph I guess this problem of mine has some legs

    Sorry I don't know how to link correctly, perhaps I should send you an e-mail address for a tutorial.

  15. Schweeney - No kidding! Nothing like a good-ol' Christians-vs-Gays story to get the news-o-sphere excited, eh? I couldn't help noticing the crudity of the anti-Catholic animus in a lot of the comments. . .

    Fr. Guarnizo's archbishop corrected him for his behavior, which, admittedly, seems unkind (though of course, I'm in no position to say, one way or the other; I wasn't there).

    Now, I don't know what the rubrics are as to family members delivering eulogies at funeral masses; perhaps Father should have stayed to listen respectfully, but I really don't know what the Church would require of him in that regard.

    But honestly, your friend shouldn't have been all that surprised to have been denied communion, should she? Certainly, and per his own bishop, Father could/should have treated her with more 'pastoral sensitivity'. But, as a lifelong Catholic, she would know how the Church regards her lifestyle, right? Forgive me, I don't mean to add unkindness to unkindness, but the Church is what it is, and teaches what it teaches; it shouldn't be surprising when it acts according to its own teachings, should it?

    Again, I would refer to my previous comment as to 'speaking the Truth in Love', and how hard it is to get both ends of that right. . .