Dear Fellow Parishioners,
This year I have made a bit of a fuss about collecting palms that were blessed at last year’s Palm Sunday so that I could burn them and use the ashes for next Wednesday’s ritual that, in the Catholic Church, leads us into the penitential season of Lent. The ceremony of having a cross traced on our foreheads with ashes (which have been blessed with holy water making them moist and visible) is a reminder of the transition Christ made from death to the new life at Easter and the subsequent fire of Pentecost.
The prayers of the Church tell us that the ashes symbolise a ‘contrite’ heart. We would say today, a ‘broken’ heart. The suggestion is that a broken heart is not the end of the road but is instead the starting point for something new, something that mends and makes us even stronger. For something new to begin to happen we have to get rid of all our accumulated rubbish (hence the image of the bonfire and its resulting ashes). One of the problems with adjusting to this challenge is that it is quite painful, and we might much prefer our familiar well-worn routine to anything new that might be asked of us.
As the time of Lent begins this week God calls us to a real repentance so that the undergrowth of our sinfulness can be cleared away and a deep change of heart and a new direction takes place. God’s Grace finds an opening in making us ‘whole’ again when we become humble and contrite of heart. When a heart has broken off feeling sorry for itself only then can it take the first step in knowing how to be caring for other people. As our God is “full of tenderness and compassion’ towards us, so do we learn to be the same for others.
St. Paul tells us in today’s Epistle that by following his example we should “try to be helpful to everyone at all times, not anxious for our own advantage, but for the advantage of everyone else”. In the same way, the leper’s remark to Jesus – “If you are willing you can cleanse me” – becomes a challenge for each one of us. If we are willing, we too can put our goodness, love and compassion into the task of transforming our world. Out of brokenness we too can reach out to others in our world that we have previously regarded as untouchable - only to discover that, at Christ’s touch, our own leprosy has been healed! During these 40 days of prayer and repentance we are encouraged to rise out of the ashes of human frailty to brandish the palms of Easter joy once more - and so the cycle continues.