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Ash Wednesday – 2017

Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy 3-1-2017

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain:
and after he sat down his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them…

So begins, my brothers & sisters, Matthew’s very long account of Jesus’ major teaching known to us as the Sermon on the Mount. It is out of this carefully woven fabric, covering three whole chapters in the gospel, that today’s gospel is cut.

This is the essential teaching of Jesus … and the Greek word, hupokrités, “pretender” “performer” “hypocrite”, is woven throughout this sermon which is addressed to us this morning … this Ash Wednesday … the beginning of this Lenten Season.  It is repeatedly “chanted” by Jesus paired with the Greek word, prosecho, Be Aware … Be Careful … Beware! … of the performer … of the actor within you!

One chapter further into this Sermon on the Mount … again the pairing of the two words … Beware the false prophets “disguised as sheep but underneath ravenous wolves”!

I suggest there is this “pairing”, the double reality, a tension, in each of our own lives.  As the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkagaard has stated it: “The mind moves gracefully in realms of light and eternity…while the body stumbles slowly, one foot ahead of the other, through time and physical reality.”

My sisters & brothers, we are all that lurching body… inside each of us is that SARX … that “blind beggar Bartimeaus” lying at the side of the road watching all our fine spiritual thoughts walk past us! And Jesus warns us this morning … Be aware … Be careful … it is so tempting to simply let our awareness run after our righteous thoughts on the road to nowhere. He calls us back Repent … Turn Around … Be Aware …return to your Real Self.  Jesus calls us this morning … this Lenten Season to that Secret Place inside, where the Father sees us.

And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.

Jesus challenges us to turn around & face ourselves … Jesus calls us to an honest, authentic, reverent relationship to our own poverty which is far more precious to him than our self-conscious performance.

Unless we start with what we are, all our projects for growth will collapse, writes Fr. Michael Casey paraphrasing St. Bernard, because their foundations were in the shifting sands of delusion and wishful thinking. The only process of self improvement that works is one that does not reject who or what you are to begin with.

If we do not accept our own wounded humanity, we will be less capable of accepting the humanity of Jesus. So the Divine Word invites us again this Lenten season through the words of the ancient Prophet Joel:

Even now, says the Lord,
Return to me with all your heart
Return to the Lord your God…
For gracious & merciful is He
Slow to anger & rich in kindness.

+ Abbot Peter McCarthy

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