Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Homily for Ash Wednesday 2015

Joel 2.1-2,12-17
2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10
Matthew 6.1-6,16-21

What is it that we most deeply desire? That is the question we are asked today, and through this season of Lent.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus sharply criticises the popular religious practices of his day, which, at least in this passage, were all about being seen.  Jesus is exposing what is in his hearer’s hearts, what it is that they desire. In a religious society, those who practiced their piety openly were approved of. They gained status and reputation. Jesus is asking, do we desire that sort of approval? Do we desire to be like that sort of person? If we do, then our desire comes from someone else, second hand. We have forgotten what we are created for, our truest and deepest desire, which is God.

All of today’s readings in one way or another speak of a journey of salvation, the path of return to God who awaits us. And this is a path we must seek with the heart and soul, it is not simply a matter of external observances. It is about desire, and to learn what we most deeply desire we look into our hearts.

And this means also that we must expose the false desires which will never ultimately satisfy, so that we can detach ourselves from them and return to the Lord. True life is to be found in him, but all the time we seek it elsewhere. So all the time we are comparing ourselves with other people. If someone is well known and has a good reputation they seem to exist more solidly, more definitely, than I do. Everyone notices them, they must be really alive! But who notices me? So I desire to be like them. And I have forgotten to seek God who is my true desire.

Our own society is much less religious than that of Jesus. Our temptations are for different things, but they are the same at root. What does our society value? Not religious practices, but successful careers, glamorous lifestyles, perfect families, possessions, wealth, power. These are the aspirations by which people in our own day measure themselves against others, desiring what they’ve got, wanting to be like them.

The words of Jesus uncover those desires, show us what they are: desire for an illusion, that will never satisfy. Jesus tells us that to learn what we most deeply desire we must return to our Father, in secret. For it is in secret, in the depths of the heart, that we must seek God who is the only true source of our being and our life.

So the path of salvation and reconciliation leads us within. Jesus says “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” The secret inner room in which our Father waits for us is within, in the heart, the depths where he gives the inexhaustible gift of the Holy Spirit who is our true and eternal life.

To return into this secret room we need to repent, that is to turn around and change direction. Saint Augustine after his conversion from a dissolute lifestyle prayed, “O God, you were within me, but I was outside, seeking you among your creatures.”

This is exactly what Jesus is saying today. Do not follow the false desires which lead us away from ourselves as we seek to possess what other people have got. Seek instead our truest and deepest desire, the desire for God, who leads us within to find our true life in him.

In Lent we observe a number of external practices, marking with ash, discipline and self-denial, the things we give up. But these are not ends in themselves. They are about uncovering our desires, all the ways in which we are seeking outside ourselves, seeking satisfaction and life among creatures, instead of seeking the one true source of life and being in God. 

And Lent is a time of repentance, returning to our Father, because we have discovered that the desires we were following will not satisfy us eternally. Instead God calls us to discover once again our deepest and truest desire in him. So Lent is a time of joy, and of life. We should not go around with gloomy faces! Yes, there is hard discipline in discovering, and letting go of, the false desires we have been following. But we are returning to the one true source of life and being, the desire for which we are created, which is God himself, in whom alone is all our life and joy.

No comments: