From the Pastor: Lent is here!
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent on both the newer and older liturgical calendars. To help everyone prepare for Judgement Day, Holy Mother Church always invites the faithful to receive a mark of penance, ashes, on their foreheads at the very beginning of this penitential season. If you remember such bible stories as the prophet Jonas (Jonah) walking through the great city of Ninive (Nineveh) announcing that, because of their wickedness, God was going to destroy the city, you will remember the reason for--and effect of--penances the people did in the past. In case you forgot everything except the whale in that book, here is the relevant part:
“And Jonas began to enter into the city one day's journey: and he cried, and said: Yet forty days, and Ninive shall be destroyed. And the men of Ninive believed in God: and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least. And the word came to the king of Ninive; and he rose up out of his throne, and cast away his robe from him, and was clothed with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published in Ninive from the mouth of the king and of his princes, saying: Let neither men nor beasts, oxen nor sheep, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water. And let men and beasts be covered with sackcloth, and cry to the Lord with all their strength, and let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the iniquity that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn, and forgive: and will turn away from his fierce anger, and we shall not perish? And God saw their works, that they were turned from their evil way: and God had mercy with regard to the evil which he had said that he would do to them, and he did it not.”
There are several important lessons to be learned here. First of all, notice that it is the men of the city who first react. They know that they are wicked and, when someone finally points it out to them and specifically reveals the consequences of their wickedness, they respond with belief in God. Today too many who are supposed to be prophetic by vocation (ahem, clergy) are like Jonas before the whale incident, running away from their duties. They refuse to call evil “evil” or to be “judgemental” by pointing out the wickedness of men. They are afraid to “turn people off” by telling them truthfully and bluntly what the consequences of their wickedness will be, thus depriving them of the chance to believe and repent and make amends.
Next, once they believe in God, they do not wait for any “higher authority” to tell them what to do, to give instruction, to give example. They accept that the prophet is a greater authority than any secular authority or false pagan priest to whom they had been listening. They knew what was the proper response. “[T]hey proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least...” They, the men, became the spiritual leaders of their family and society which they were always supposed to be. They didn’t worry about consulting with their wives and kids, they didn’t call a townhall meeting and try to gain consensus; they did what needed to be done, they did it immediately, and they told everyone else to do so as well.
Only then does the King hear and respond in a way proper for a man of secular authority. He rids himself of all signs of royalty, knowing he has no authority compared to God. He sets the example of not only putting on sackcloth but also sitting in ashes (he would have covered himself in them until they were piled up on the floor), and he commanded all with authority under him (princes) to proclaim a unified message, harsher than even the men had dared proclaim, of severe fasting and penance to be accepted by one and all and even their cattle! He first believed in God through the prophet’s message, responded to God with outward actions showing his otherwise invisible repentance and commanded others to do so as well (again, no consensus building, no wishy-washing wringing of hands wondering if he was being too “rigid”, no ecumenical groveling to see if any other religion or god would be a means to an easier, nicer, kinder, salvation without a need to throw off sin). Notice also that he had received absolutely no indication that fasting and penance and prayer would have any effect and he did not bargain with God about it, but rather held out a simple hope that by doing the right thing now, God would forgive the past wickedness. And He did.
To help you follow the path of the Ninivites, I am adding an additional Mass on Ash Wednesday at 7:00 pm plus one more (6:30 am) Mass Mondays through Fridays in Lent, beginning the day after Ash Wednesday. Turn from evil ways, fast and pray and do penance and hope. We may yet be saved.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka