ASH WEDNESDAY

March 1, 2017

 

Joel 2: 12-18 // 2 Cor 5: 20 -- 6:2 // Mt 6: 1-6.16-18

 by *Fr. Jerry Aman, SJ

 

There is an old story about an ugly crane, stomping through the mud at the edge of a pond, pecking away with its beak, catching snails and eating them.  Suddenly a gorgeous, white swan comes gliding down and lands in the middle of the pond.  The crane looks up and calls “Where did you come from?”  The swan responds that he is from heaven.  “What’s that?” asks the crane.  The swan then goes on to describe the beauties of the heavenly city with the streets paved with gold and with flowers and shrubs lining the roads, the walls of the city adorned with precious stones.  Down through the centre of the city runs the stream of life with its crystal clear waters and trees on either side whose leaves can be used for healing.  The crane, tiring of this boring narrative, yawns and asks “They got snails in that your heavun?” “No, of course not” answers the swan. The crane continues pecking for snails and finally utters “Then you can keep your heavun.  I want snails.”

This story has a message for us as we enter Lent on this Ash Wednesday.  We are offered the waters of life, nourishment and healing, but so often we go off hunting for snails instead.  We trade a deep spiritual life and a close relationship with Jesus to plod into the mud of honour, riches and pleasures.  “I want snails!”  We get stuck in patterns of sin and selfishness, the small addictions that feed our bellies.  We are offered pure water, but we wallow in the sleaze of worldly temptations and sins of the flesh.  We have Jesus who offers his hand to walk beside us in a relationship that can conquer all our fears, but we want snails.

“Blow the trumpet in Zion… call a solemn fast” says the prophet Joel as the Lord invites “Even now return to me with all your heart… tear your hearts and not your garments.”  The Church gives us this time of 40 days to clean up our act, get out of the mud, and start to look for something beyond what momentarily fills our bellies.  We are called during Lent to change, but not so much to become a new person as to return to our true self. It is said that not long after his conversion St. Augustine was greeted by a former mistress walking along the road.  Augustine paid no attention.  The woman was surprised and called “Augustine, Augustine, it is I!”  Without breaking stride Augustine retorted “Yes, but it is no longer I.” Augustine had been converted to his truer deeper self.

We are called to repent, but we are called by a trumpet, not by crashing thunder and bolts of lightning that threaten “God will punish you!”  The psalm for today pleads “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your merciful love; according to your great compassion…”

There is a wonderful story about how at creation God called together his most trusted angels to take counsel from them about the creation of man and woman.  The Angel of Truth spoke up: “Create them not, O Lord, for they will be false to you and speak all kinds of lies and deceit.  Create them not!”  Then the Angel of Justice added “Create them not, Master, for they will exploit those weaker than themselves and take unfair advantage of the poor and helpless.  Create them not!”  And the Angel of Holiness insisted “Create them not, O Sovereign One, for they will embarrass you and follow what is impure in your sight. Create them not!”  Then the last of God’s angels, the Angel of Mercy, God’s favorite, spoke up and said “Create them, Merciful Father, for when they have erred and been false and wandered from the path of truth and righteousness, I will take them tenderly by the hand, speak loving words to them and gently lead them back to you so you may renew your spirit within them.” And God created man and woman in his own image and likeness.

Now is the time to listen to the call of the trumpet, turn from the snails of sin and put our hand into the gentle hand of our God who will lead us back to our true selves. 

 

*Fr. Jerry Aman, SJ, is the Minister/Administrator at Arrupe College in Harare, Zimbabwe. 

 

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