Ash Wednesday C (17 Feb 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Revisiting Two Moments
As we begin Lent I suggest Jesus as our starting point. Who is Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, God’s Anointed One? English ‘Anointed’ translates Greek ‘Christ’ which translates Hebrew ‘Messiah.’ Jesus the Christ is Jesus the Messiah. For us Jesus is that one. The present tense verb in Jesus is that one makes all the difference: Jesus is. Jesus died but did not stay dead. Jesus is alive, and Jesus lives in a unique way: in the power of Holy Spirit. No one can fathom that. Because we cannot fathom that Jesus, who died but did not stay dead, is alive by the power of Holy Spirit, does not mean Jesus is not alive and present among us. Nor does our inability to understand that diminish the power of Jesus’ living presence.
Not only does Jesus abide with us and with all people in every time and place, Jesus shares his Holy Spirit with you and me. By his gift of his Spirit, we share in his life and how he lives. That is what our title of Christian implies: Jesus’ Spirit anoints us and gives us a share in the life Jesus now fully enjoys. Two moments in our Christian life impart this. Lent is a time to prepare for or to deepen both sacramental moments: baptism and confirmation.
The baptizing minister anoints a baptized infant’s head with chrism, saying, As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.1 Before anointing with chrism those who are to be confirmed, the confirming minister says what Jesus’ Spirit does for Christians: It will strengthen you to be active members of the Church and to build up the Body of Christ in faith and love.2 In a word, you and I represent Messiah Jesus to the world because we have been anointed.
To use St. Paul’s words, we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We begin Lent each year with that image before our minds and hearts. Lenten practices sharpen that image in the eyes of our hearts. Lent helps us become more aware of who we are and to live as our Messiah’s ambassadors.
An ambassador is a proxy, a delegate of one who desires her message heard, her convictions known and her way of being and behaving modeled wherever the ambassador is. That means that the ambassador knows who she represents. A vast difference exists between representing a dead person and representing a living one. For us Jesus lives!
St. Paul did not dream up his image of us as ambassadors. Far from it. Paul came to know the living Lord, the Risen Jesus. His letters are filled with his graced knowledge—for it was a gift he did not deserve, like it is for us. A few lines before his, We are ambassadors for Christ, Paul expressed how Jesus was the Messiah for him and us. Because he died and was raised...consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer.
Paul’s staring point was not the past Jesus, who founded a community of the Messiah, but the living Lord who is that community’s source, life, power and motive to live. Very familiar words which we hear at the end of each eucharistic prayer at each mass express this: through him, with him, in him.
I invite you to allow Lent this year to help you notice more clearly how Messiah Jesus works through you; how Messiah Jesus welcomes you to work with him; and how Messiah Jesus holds you in his heart. Fashion your personal lenten practices to help you grow more aware of Messiah Jesus with you, in you and through you. Individually and together as contemporary disciples of Jesus respond to what you find emerging as concrete opportunities to be reconciled to God and to help others to discover Messiah Jesus welcoming them with open arms and loving heart.
1. Rite of Baptism for Children 98; also for adults who are not immediately confirmed following baptism; see Rite of Christian Initiation of
Adults [RCIA] 224.
2. RCIA 229; when Confirmation is celebrated separately words elaborate this even more; see Rite of Confirmation 39.
Wiki-image of imposition of ashes is in the public domain.