Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday word, 06 Feb 2008

Ash Wednesday (06 Feb 2008) Jl 2. 12-18; 2Co 5. 20-6.2; Mt 6. 1-6, 16-18
Homily of Rev. Paul Panaretos, S. J.
Window Called Et cetera

On the first day as a high-school sophomore, I sat down in English Literature. None of us knew Mr. Arabo, the teacher. Yet, in that amazing way sophomores can glean more data than NASA—almost effortlessly, too—we in-formed each other (correctly) that he was from Iraq; learned British English; and studied its literature at Cambridge.

He arrived on the dot, went to the podium at a pleasant gait, and began to call roll. After reading each name, Mr. Arabo silently looked over his half-glasses at the name’s face. When he reached my name, he said, "Pull Pa-NA-reh-tos," and surveyed the room. When his eyes found mine, he proclaimed: "Pull! You I will teach to write succinctly and concisely." That he said something more than a name stunned us all, especially me. I barely heard a thing that bright Fall day, wondering what he knew about me that I didn’t know; how he knew; and, hey! "succinctly and concisely," that’s redundant!

Tentative at the start, I enjoyed Mr. Arabo’s class and even learned about myself. He threw me curves now and again that helped me communicate not merely write. In a paper which had to explain descriptively, twice I gave three examples followed by etc., my effort to be succinct—or concise. That abbreviation won me bright red ink and the written and vocal remark: “Et cetera means you don't know any more.”

Even if we know, don’t we use etc. with threes?
1, 2, 3, etc.
Sun, moon, stars, etc.
Rest, drink plenty of fluids, call the doctor in the morning, etc.
School is more interesting than: go to class, go to the library, go to the gym, etc.

Has Jesus just told us that the Springtime of the church is alms, prayer, fasting, etc.? Surely it’s more, we hope, grasping at something; but does anybody know?

Concerning the poetry that is our spirits, Mr. Arabo was partly correct: etc. means we don't know—for we are mysteries even to ourselves. It’s not that we don't know any more. We don’t know all, right now. The Springtime of the church through almsgiving, prayer, and fasting shapes us to know what is secret from ourselves; secrets that God longs to impart to us if we only desire; secrets God longs to reward in most intimate and personal ways.

Ashes are our keys to new and burnished secrets. People know that, even though they may not express it that way, because each year people desire to be marked by ashes. Visible to all, ashes remind us ever so simply—"succinctly and concisely"—our secret rewards from God are personal but never private. That’s why we “Repent and be faithful to the gospel” together.
Wiki-image of Ashcross is used under the GFDL.

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