Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday word, 21 Feb 2007

Ash Wednesday (21 Feb 2007) Jl 2. 12-18; Ps 51; 2Co 5. 20-6.2; Mt 6. 1-6, 16-18
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Penetrating Gaze

Something we can learn from our Jewish cousins in faith is that they are teachers without peer about pathways that are painful, harsh, cruel, without reason and seemingly endless.

Take one account of a Holocaust survior. When the Nazis separated the men and the women, Eliezer never again saw his mother or sister. We know this Eliezer as Elie Wiesel, whom I heard say that every other book he authored was a postscript to Night, his autobiography of his childhood in the Nazi death camps. All he and the others thought of was bread, not revenge--even when they ceased to feel hunger. That alone is remarkable and worth pondering.

Elie closed Night in a stunning way. He, like most residents of those unspeakable places, never could see himself. What was stunning was Elie’s first gaze into a mirror after his liberation. He saw a corpse gazing back at him. Elie closed his most important book with that moment: “The look in his eyes as they stared into mine has never left me.”

That’s a most penetrating gaze. Another is at once more penetrating and dear: God’s loving gaze. How often do we forget God’s loving gaze on us? who God sees and desires to see? How willingly do we behold the sight of our true selves? The temptation is either not to gaze long or not to gaze inwardly at all. It is more tolerable to see our bodies--even though many people would rather have other bodies. We find it sufficient to arrange our clothes than to rearrange our souls.

Lent, well practiced, is a mirror for us to behold our innermost. We all begin with the same view of ourselves marked with ashes. When I was little, and not so little, I’d run to a looking glass to see if my cruciform smudge was neater than others, bigger than others, darker than others and lasted longer than others. No different a glance than the one to make sure my buttons were even, my tie centered and my sweater square. I refused to see with God's vision, only with my too-inflated sense of my own sight.

Penitence, well practiced, exalts one’s inner sight, deepens one's respect for others; and strengthens one’s resolve to act. Penitence that is moderate and not scrupulous is well practiced. Penitential practices are important, especially amid our wanton consumerism. It’s no wonder ours is a throw-away society: we routinely exercise our imagination on the surface.

Go deeper this Lent: Ask yourself what you will see when you gaze at your sister or brother marked with ashes. Will you see dusty ashes, or will you see how the twists and turns of life pressure our bodily carbon into the diamond we call God’s image and likeness? Will you dread another 40 days of purple, or will you open yourself to feel God loving you into being? Will your deafness to or limited hearing of Jesus persist, or will you detect in each human voice and story the lenten cry, Glory and praise to you! Lord Jesus Christ? Will you disregard days lengthening, or will they foster in you the springtime of the church?

To return to the Lord with all your heart is to take action in two steps. First, behold how Jesus acted and immerse yourself in Jesus’ heart and hands, head and feet. Second, in Jesus' light, ask yourself the greater question: What will I do? “What would Jesus do?” That question can tempt us to inaction.

What will I do? We allow that question to be a wall more often than a link to Jesus. Lent, practiced well, is our opportunity to forge anew our link, our bond, our personal covenant with Jesus. Lent makes our darkness no night but gives way to the day the Lord has made and leads us closer.

Night now forms part of Wiesel’s The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, The Accident. Libraries may still have Night as a separte volume.

Ash cross by J.L.B. (enthusia) and Photo by bamakodaker both of whom allow their use under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 License.

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