Ash Wednesday – March 6, 2019
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51:3-6, 12-14, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Lent is a time for repentance, for conversion, for returning to the Lord with our whole heart (c.f., Joel 2:12), for prayer, fasting and almsgiving, for asking pardon for our sins. We all know this. This isn’t something new. But each and every year Lent begins, and we never really step back and remember why Lent exists in the first place.
Originally, Lent was called the time of Purification and Enlightenment, the last days of preparation for those who would be baptized at Easter. It was the final period of purifying from their lives those things which could not be there if they were going to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It was a time to grow in knowledge and love of the Lord before they would receive His very life in the waters of Baptism. Purification and Enlightenment.
With a few exceptions, though, all of us here have been baptized. So what gives?
There are a lot of reasons, but I would like to focus on just one. Lent gives us the time to remember and to acknowledge who and what we truly are. Lent gives us the chance to cast aside this “false self” that we like to present to others, to ourselves, to God—it gives us a chance to cast that aside and recover our true self, recover our “new self” given to us at Baptism.
How many of you have ever done this: you go to confession, you confess your sins, but at the same time, in the back of your mind you’re thinking, “Well, I did that, but there were a lot of circumstances. I don’t really think I’m that guilty.” I’ve done that! I hear it in the confessional, “Oh padre, I did this, but, you understand right?” Well yes, I understand, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok.
There is a word for this nowadays. It’s called being “fake.” We’ve called it a lot of things in the past, but essentially it is just someone in denial of who they are and what they’ve done. It is someone lying to others and to themselves about who they really are. It is someone who says one thing to one person but something else to another. It is someone who acts a certain way with some people and another way with others. They are constantly presenting a different persona to different people. They present a false self.
But my dear brothers and sisters, all this is is a lack of humility, a lack of being able to acknowledge who we truly are, to acknowledge it and live it. We present only our strengths to other people, hoping they will love us. We present only our weaknesses, because we think we are worthless. But when we do this, when we approach others this way, they never get to know us, and so the relationship we have with them is based on a lie.
When we do this with God, when we come to him in prayer, in confession, anytime—when we present our false self to God and say, “Lord, please love me, please forgive me,” all he can say is, “No.” Let me say that again: when we present a false sense of self to God—only present our strengths or only present our weaknesses—and then ask him to love us, to be with us, to help us, to forgive us, all he can say is, “No.” Why? Because he can’t help your false self, he can’t love your false self. He can only love you.
When we receive our ashes, we are told, “Remember, you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” This isn’t to remind us that we’re dirt, that we’re worthless. No, it is a call to humility. And humility begins with acknowledging who you truly are: the good, the bad, the talent, the virtue, the vice—all of it. Humility is about taking all of that material, all of that dirt, and allowing the Lord to do his work. From the dust of the earth, the Lord created man. From the dust of our lives, God can recreate us.
But it begins with humility. We cannot continue to present a false self to God and expect anything. God cannot love our false self. God can only love you, he can only love the true you. This Lent, allow the Lord to see you. In confession, present it all to the Lord. In prayer, present it all to the Lord. Don’t hold anything back. This Lent, the Lord wants to offer you everything. Everything. “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”