Lent: dust to dust
How is your lent going? We are five days into this most holy season, a retreat time of purity, sacrifice, and joy. I am preaching all of Fr. Peter’s English Masses this weekend to introduce myself as your Lenten Mission director, and to encourage you to attend the mission, which will be at 7pm Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the coming week.
I hope many of you were able to kick off Lent with a good Ash Wednesday. At my parish of St. Joseph’s in Modesto, the crowds were immense. In my 12 years as pastor, I’ve never seen crowds that big or lines so long. Everyone was there: rich and poor, Mexicans and Anglos, teens and seniors, even democrats and republicans. It reminded me of Ash Wednesdays in New York City, where I attended seminary. We would spend all day at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, giving out ashes. Everyone came for ashes: the cabbies and the power brokers, office gals in smart business suits wearing their running shoes for the trot over from Broadway, news anchors and opera stars from Times Square, street cleaners and Wall Street financiers, homeless folk and Park Avenue elite. All were shoulder to shoulder in line, patiently waiting to get a smudge of ashes under the great gothic arches of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This is the day when princes and paupers alike confess the universal truth: I am not perfect, I will die someday, and I need God’s help.
It’s ironic, really. As religion is more than ever ridiculed, as God is increasingly mocked in public life—even as our government seeks to shut down religion in America, the crowds at Mass are bigger than ever. Why is this? Because we know that sin is killing us: our marriages, our families, our culture. Deep down we know this, and we seek refuge in the simple truth of Ash Wednesday: “If you die with me, you will rise with me.”
In the first reading, a flood wipes out the whole mess. Only Noah and his family are saved from death in those raging waters. The Flood was not God’s punishment for sin, but the consequences of our sin. And yet, even so, God said never again. How would he save us from our own sin? By sending his own son, the Savior. And in today’s Gospel, this savior enters the wilderness of our sin and its consequences, a zone of death, to fight for us. It is a wilderness full of beasts and angels, the best and the worst of our human race. It is planet earth, laid waste by broken families, violent streets, blasphemous language, drugs and alcohol, infidelities and brutality of every sort, but also graced with the lives of saints like John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Jesus goes into the desert to rescue the beasts and make them into angels.
Noah’s built an ark, under God’s direction: a mighty ship that would save his family from the dark waters. The ark is a life raft, prefiguring the Church herself. Anyone inside this Ark, the Church, is safe, but anyone outside will drown. Jesus is the captain of this Ark, and the Ark is Our Lady. She is the great Ark of the Covenant who bears Christ within her. She guides us to Christ, and He guides us to the Father.
Our Parish Mission next week will focus on Our Lady, Ark of the Covenant, and Jesus, the divine presence in that Ark. He is always within her. The closer we draw to Mary, the closer we draw to Jesus inside of her. There is no authentic devotion or life in Christ that ignores or disowns his mother, Mary.
I have been giving retreats to Mother Teresa’s sisters around the world for most of my priesthood. My three talks will be from those I give to the sisters, adapted for the parish. The first will tells the story of Mother Teresa’s life and her significance in the 20th Century. We will discover her devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Holy Rosary. The second will be the first two mysteries of the rosary, the Annunciation and the Visitation. And the third talk will be on the Great Sign of Revelation 12: the Ark of the Covenant, which shows us the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I will tell some stories from my work with her in 1997 and my friends’ experiences with her. We will show a little bit of her life on a video.
I hope you can come. It will be each evening at 7pm. I will preach in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and do benediction at the end. There is wonderful grace in simply coming to a mission, because it is God’s will that we do this during Lent. Confessions will follow each talk. Each evening is self-contained, so even if you can’t make all three, I encourage you to come to one or two. But for those who make all three, I will grant a plenary indulgence.
Let us pray to Our Lady now in the words of Mother Teresa:
Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart,
so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate,
so full of love and humility,
that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life,
love Him as you loved Him,
and serve Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.