A Routine Spiritual
Homily for Ash Wednesday
Preached on March 5, 2014 at Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY and Saint Mary Catholic Church, Perryville KY
Readings: Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
It is not one of my favorite things in life, but I do it anyway. I go to see my doctor every year for a routine physical.
The same thing happens every time. He tells me to watch what I am eating and to exercise a little more. Translation: I am getting fat and I am not doing anything about it. He tracks my bad cholesterol level and prescribes me some medicine to keep it down. He checks my pulse, my blood pressure, and the rate of my respiration. Most of the time, he finds everything in working order. I probably could skip a year or two from seeing him, but I do not because this much I have learned from the couple of times when I got really sick: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is easier to nip something in the bud than it is to cut down an overgrown tree. It is better to deal with my cholesterol now than it is to watch out for a full-blown coronary later.
Lent is also not one of most people’s favorite things in life, but we Catholics do it anyway. Hopefully each of us here tries to see a priest at least once around this time of the year for what I like to call a ‘routine spiritual.’
This season is our annual check-up on all things spiritual. It is the time when we examine ourselves and see whether we have gotten better or worse since last year. Perhaps, that is why Jesus recommends that we go to an inner room, close the door, and come face to face with the Father in prayer (cf. Mt. 6:6). He wants us to do this examination in secret so that we can be honest about where we are right now. But, He also wants us to do this in prayer so that we might recall where He wants us to go. He wants us to ask ourselves why we do the things that we do, whether we do them for our own sake (cf. Mt. 6:1-2, 5, 16) or for Heaven’s sake. He wants us to seize this day as a very acceptable time, as the day of salvation (cf. 2 Cor. 6:2), and not put off for tomorrow the good that we can do today. An ounce of prevention now is worth a pound of cure later.
Most people do not worry about these things until they come face to face with their own mortality, until they realize that their time is running out. That is why the Church reminds us today of our own mortality with these ashes, why She tells us to “remember that [we] are dust and to dust [we all] shall return” (cf. Gen. 3:19). Yet, even as She nudges us about our imminent deadline, the Church also points out that God still provides us plentiful grace to get our act together. “As I live, says the Lord, I do not want the sinner to die, but to turn back to me and live” (Ez. 18:32).
Lent is the season for such second chances. For some, it is the time to resuscitate a faith gone dead. Some might even require a complete heart transplant. They are the ones who pray, “A clean heart create for me, O God” (Ps. 51:12). But, for the rest of us, this is the time when we are called to change our lifestyle so that our hearts can start getting unclogged of sin. This is the time when we try to overcome those bad habits that we still can easily give up, when we learn to pray because we want to and not because we need to, when we try to do good for goodness’s sake and not for the sake of making ourselves look good (cf. Mt. 6:1).
Of course, a second chance is worthless if it is wasted. A check-up is useless if the patient ignores his doctor’s orders. Lent would be meaningless if we only go through its motions.
But, if we let this Lent make a real difference in our lives, then, come Easter Sunday, we actually might find ourselves so much different than before: a lot less like our old selfish selves and, hopefully, a lot more like Christ.