Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Unknown Bug
Ash Wednesday
Bugs in the Light
Picture: cc Ken-ichi

Sisters and brothers, if you were to go for a walk in the woods and turn over a rock that was lying on the ground, what do you think will happen? Very likely, you will see lots of tiny insects scrambling about, desperately looking for a place to hide. These little guys like to live in places that are damp and dark. So that when the rock is lifted, and the sunlight shines upon them, their first reaction is to run away. 

I’m not sure about you, sisters and brothers, but I find this image of bugs scrambling to escape the light, a useful one for helping me to appreciate the reason why I need Lent. As you know, in a little more than forty days time, we will be celebrating Easter Sunday. Slightly more than six weeks from today, we will celebrate in a special way that incredible moment when the stone was rolled away from the tomb, and the brilliant light of the Crucified and Risen Christ shone out upon the world. As an important part of our celebration, we will also be renewing our baptismal promises. We will be recommitting ourselves, not just to live and to walk in the marvelous Light of Christ, but also to share it with others.

There’s just one problem. If I were to be completely honest with myself, I have to admit that there’s a part of me that will find it difficult to rejoice at Easter. When the stone is rolled away and the Light of Christ shines out, there’s a part of me that probably won’t be rushing out to welcome the Light with open arms. Instead, this part of me will be desperately trying to run away and to hide. For I know that even though the Light of Christ gives life, it can also be very uncomfortable. To remain in the light also means being willing to forgive and even to love those who have hurt me. It means taking time to care for those who need my attention: my family, my friends, my colleagues, my neighbors... Remaining in the light means being willing to take up my own cross daily, and follow in the footsteps of the Lord. Sisters and brothers, as embarrassed as I am to say it, like those bugs living under the rock in the woods, there is a part of me that prefers the damp and the dark to the light.

Which is why I need these days of Lent. This is a special time. In the words of the second reading, this is the very acceptable time. This is the day of salvation. During these holy days, together with all of you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I will ask the Lord to wash me from my guilt, to cleanse me from my sin, to create for me a clean heart. I will allow the Lord to prepare me to walk in his Light.

I will do this especially by engaging in the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But I have to be careful. For, as Jesus reminds us in the gospel, it is possible to do all the right things for all the wrong reasons. It is possible to pray and to fast and to give alms only so that others will see me and think highly of me. But when I do this, I remain engulfed in darkness. When I seek only the harsh glare of public approval, my heart becomes hardened in selfishness. What I need, instead, is to seek the approval of the One whom the prophet Joel speaks about in the first reading: The God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness and relenting in punishment. Under the gentle glow of God’s compassionate love, I can learn to allow my heart to melt, and even to break. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God.
With a broken heart, I can learn to welcome the Light of Christ.

Sisters and brothers, in your life, are there any stones that need overturning, any bugs that need rousing, this Lent?

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