Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
First of all, my thanks to all of you who expressed your concern for me over the course of this week when I was absent from my regular email routine last Friday. Without going into needless details, I have a chronic “thing” that flares up on me from time-to-time, and, when that happens, I just need to be out of circulation for a while. Thank you for your care and for your understanding.
Remember that this coming Wednesday, February 17, is Ash Wednesday. As I’ve written previously, while this is not a holy day of obligation, it is the traditional way in which we mark the beginning of Lent by having ourselves signed with ashes. Here at St. Frances, we will celebrate this occasion with a drive-through reception of ashes at 5:00 p.m. only on February 17th. The plan is for you all to line up in your cars as we do on Saturdays for the drive-through reception of Holy Communion. You will remain in your cars, and I, along with several lay volunteers, will impose ashes upon your foreheads making use of single-use cotton swabs to apply the ashes. One of the two traditional formularies will be recited as you each receive the ashes. As always, if you have any questions about this, please feel free to call the office at (520) 326-7670.
Our first reading and our Gospel reading this weekend deal with the subject of leprosy, which, in Scripture, is a sign and symbol of sin. I invite you to read both the Old Testament reading, which is from Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46, and the Gospel reading from Mark 1:40-45. There is much in both passages to reflect upon. However, I’ve been drawn once again to a line from our Responsorial Psalm, which is Ps. 32:1-2, 5, 11. First of all, this psalm is a personal psalm of thanksgiving, and it is the second of the seven Penitential Psalms (Ps. 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143). In these psalms, the psalmist never tries to claim innocence, but, instead, appeals to God for mercy. In fact, in Ps. 32:5 the psalmist wrote:
“Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide. I said, ‘I confess my transgression to the Lord,’ and you took away the guilt of my sin.”
The Church, of course, recognizes Lent as the Great Season of Penance, a season in which we get very serious about our sins and their effects upon our lives. It is not a time in which we try in any way to whitewash our past transgressions or try to bargain our way out of our guilt. Rather, it is a time of deepened honesty before our God. As with the psalmist, it’s a time in which we declare our sin before the Lord and hide not our guilt. I have loved reflecting again on the last phrase of vs. 5, “…you took away the guilt of my sin.” One of the most powerful weapons which Satan uses against the People of God is guilt, and the way in which he employs this weapon is to continually accuse us with the truths of our sinful past. Remember also, that another of his weapons is to plant doubt within our minds. Look at Genesis 3, please. Verse 1 has the serpent planting the seeds of doubt in the woman’s mind, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” That doubt bore fruit and look at what came of it. Satan continues to plant doubt and use guilt against us to this day. “Look at what you did when you were younger! How could your God ever forgive that?” Guilt and doubt. However, there are things that Satan will never be able to provide us: forgiveness, hope, and compassion. The leper in our Gospel reading came to Jesus seeking cleansing. He came in hope. He said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” I love Jesus’ response. He was moved with pity, stretched out His hand, touched him, and said to him:
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
Nobody was more aware of his disease (sin) than the leper, but it didn’t prevent him from presenting himself before the Lord in hope. What do we have to fear as we enter into our season of Lent? What would keep us back from bringing ourselves in deep honesty before the Lord and seeking His merciful forgiveness again? Lent is actually known as a “joyful season” because we can be restored to the joy of our salvation through the Lord’s forgiveness of our sins. So, let us all reflect upon His great mercy, present ourselves before Him afresh as we seek His forgiveness, and know again the fullness of fellowship with Him.
I pray God’s richest blessings upon each one of you as we enter into the sacred days of Lent. May they profit you for all eternity!
Your brother in the bonds of Christian love,