Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ash Wednesday: Let the Priests weep before the Altar

March 6, 2019

Jesus, I trust in you!

“Between the porch and the altar, let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say: ‘Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach…’”

The prophet Joel wrote at a time when the southern kingdom of Judah was devastated by a plague of locusts. The land was laid barren and the people suffered heavy losses. And so, the prophet calls for a time of penance: a time of fasting and sacred assembly: “Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly…” This call to penance was done because the Lord said to the people: “Even now, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning…Return to the Lord. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” The time of penance was necessitated by the plague. But such an occasion can only be called because of the mercy of God. The people can return to the Lord because the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness. He is relenting in punishment. If the Lord were not so, then penance would have been useless. If the Lord is unmoved by acts of mortification, then why engage in penance?
Ash Wednesday this year finds the Church in a difficult situation. The crisis of clerical sins has brought about a severe beating for the Church. The scandal has risen to the highest offices of the Church. We have been brought low in the sight of people on account of the sins of our spiritual fathers.

In such crisis, the Lord tells us to return to him. And he seeks genuine conversion: Rend your hearts and not your garments. Tearing one’s garment looks dramatic enough but it would amount to putting up a show. But the Lord does not want a show. He wants conversion to be sincere. He wants this conversion to come from the heart. To rend one’s heart means to radically cut off ourselves from the roots of our sins. Repentance cannot be sincere if there is no desire to reform. Repentance involves a severing of ties and attachment to sin.

Our sorrow for sins must come from the heart. We are sorry that we have offended God. We are sorry for hurting others. In this crisis of clerical abuse, people kept talking about how victims were traumatized and rightly should we say so. But we will miss the point if we do not realize how such sins have offended the Lord. We will miss the point if we do not realize how such sins have defiled consecrations to the Lord. The sins of clerical abuse are so offensive because they violate the clergy’s consecration to God. That is why priests have to weep before the altar, before the altar where they must stand undefiled in order to worthily offer sacrifice. Priests have to weep before the altar because the altar makes the offering sacred. Priests have to weep before the altar because they place on the altar the spotless Victim who is Christ and therefore, by their lives of self-abnegation, they must lay down their lives together with Christ.

Dearly beloved, as we enter into this time of penance, may I humbly ask you to remember us, your priests, in your prayers. Many of us have fallen. We have fallen to sin. We have defiled our consecration. We have become unworthy ministers of the Lord. Like the public sinners of old who stand at the doorsteps of the Church to beg for the prayers of the faithful, we priests beg you to pray for us. Pray that we may acknowledge our sins and take responsibility for them. Pray that we may sincerely be sorrowful for our sins. Pray that we may make amends for them. Pray that we may rise and return to the Lord. “For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is before me always: ‘Against you alone have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.’”

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

No comments:

Post a Comment