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It’s Ash Wednesday Again!

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

Health Central Ash Wednesday Service

Joel 2: 12-18; 2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2; Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18

Deacon Larry Brockman

Well, here we all are again for Ash Wednesday.  Another year has passed, and Lent begins today.   

A good question for you to ask today is this:  Has anything changed in your life in the last year?  Or are you still living pretty much the way you lived last year?  Are you bogged down in a busy routine, and don’t seem to have the time to break out of it?  Do you sense a growing distance with someone important to you; or are you having problems with someone close to you but don’t seem to ever be able to address them; or maybe you are losing control of something in your life?  Do you have a sense of guilt or concern about any of that?  Do you sense that your relationship with God is suffering?

Because if any of those things resonate with you, now is the time for renewal.  Lent is the classical time on the Church calendar for folks to make some time to reflect on where there are going and what they are doing and to then make a change for the better.  To quote St. Paul:  Now is the acceptable time.

You see, change is absolutely inevitable.    If you wait long enough then something will happen and there will be change- an illness, the loss of a loved one, a betrayal by someone we love.   Any of number of things are percolating around us and can suddenly change our lives forever, even rob us of the chance of healing things because the opportunity is gone.     

The church recommends the three pillars of Lent as a process for renewal.  They are:  Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving.   

You know, fasting has been proven by the great mystics to be an effective way to clear our minds so we can come to grips with what’s going on in our lives.  In fact, that’s what John the Baptist and Jesus both did.  They went into the desert, fasted, and reflected on their lives and where they were headed.  The Gospels tell us that Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, and that he survived temptations of the flesh, power, and pride.  But when he emerged, he could see his three-year mission clearly.  And he also saw that he would suffer, die, and be resurrected.  That 40 days is the origin of Lent.  The Church encourages each of us to do as Jesus did.   

Now you don’t have to fast from food any more- just on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  You can, if that is what is getting in the way of your need to pray and reflect.  Indeed, we probably all eat too much.    That can bog us down, even make us sleepy and listless.  Chances are that most of us could free some time up by fasting in other areas though.  Too much Facebook; too much TV; too many sporting events, too many lunches; you get the idea.    But whatever you need to fast from, use the time that you break free in a productive way. 

In fact, that would be a good time for the second pillar- Prayer and Reflection on what’s nagging you inside, whether it’s any of the things I mentioned or something else.   You know, some of the experts claim that it is God who initiates all prayer.  So, that little voice inside of you that nags you about something, may just be God calling you to share it with Him.  If you can find a quiet place and some free time, spend that time in prayer.  And that doesn’t just mean reciting a prayer, and you talking to God.  God wants a relationship with each and every one of us- a two-way relationship.  So, we have got to listen to God as well as talk to him.   

God speaks to us in varied and strange ways- but often directly through His word.  So, pray over the Sunday or weekday readings.  There‘s a little “Daily Bread” pamphlet covering the next three months available from the Chaplain.  That would be a good way to start.  And you may be surprised how your needs may be met when you listen to those little prompts that God gives you.   

The last Pillar is “Almsgiving”.  That doesn’t just mean dropping a few bucks in the collection plate; or even giving a little extra to your favorite charity.  In recent years, the Church asks for us to contribute our time, our talent, and our treasure.  Almsgiving can be from any of those three.  Almsgiving is a measure of how well our Fasting and Prayerful meditation worked.  We are giving back to God.   

You see, God has an agenda for each of us.  And a part of that agenda is giving of ourselves.  Whatever time, talent, and treasure we have, it all comes from God anyway.  And when we make our time or our talent or our treasure available to others in response to Him, we are showing God that we trust that he has our best interests in mind.  We might even find that he answers our requests in the process.   

So, after we receive our ashes today, rather than walking around with long faces and gloomy hearts because Lent is upon us today, let us be happy instead; let us surrender to our basic need to make positive changes in our lives.  Now is the acceptable time!   

Now Is the Acceptable Time!

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Ash Wednesday
Joel 2: 12-18; 2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2; Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18
Deacon Larry Brockman

Well, it’s that time of year again! Lent is here. Time to fast, set aside some time for prayer, and give alms. So, what should we really do? Maybe give up candy, TV, or Facebook? Maybe a few extra minutes a day in prayer like a rosary would be good for prayer; and maybe a few extra dollars in the collection should do the trick for alms.

But wait a minute, Let’s just pull back and look at what the whole Lenten process is really about before we move off on a plan. Lent is all about examining your life and making a change- a permanent change. So, how did Jesus do that? Well, Jesus was raised in Nazareth and trained to be a carpenter. But after He was Baptized Jesus went away for 40 days and pondered what his life was all about. He came away from that 40 day retreat a changed man. That was the origin of the season of Lent.

Essentially Jesus was trying to find his heart when he went off into the desert. He sensed that he was not being called to be a carpenter the rest of his life. Jesus fasted and prayed and asked God his Father what life was all about for him. He was tempted by the devil, who tried to get Jesus to seek comfort, power, and fame. But Jesus emerged strong by resisting those temptations. Jesus understood that those things were worldly and that they were not God’s will for him.

So, Jesus listened to God’s voice, a little more subtle and gentle voice, a voice which revealed to him the special mission God wanted him to perform to believe in God and his law with his whole heart; to preach a new way of living, one that emphasized repentance and forgiveness of sins. Jesus resolved to be obedient to the Father, and Jesus also accepted whatever happened as a consequence of his obedience to the Father. Jesus even foresaw that the consequences would be his passion and death, followed by his Resurrection.

The ashes you will all receive in a few moments, are a reminder of your own mortality in the physical world. We all realize, just like Jesus realized, that we have limited time in this life. That’s why it is important for us all to be in a right relationship with God at all times. And yet, there are so many voices that dance through our minds Which of them is really God speaking to us, and what does he really want of us going forward?
Now there are three Lenten pillars that Jesus speaks of in Matthew- Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving. Fasting prepares us for hearing God; prayer is our channel for communicating with God; and almsgiving indicates that we have heard God and are responding to Him.

In a sense, Fasting is the most pressing need. Jesus found that conventional fasting helped clear his mind for prayer and talking to his Father. So, Jesus went into the desert and did not eat. That worked for him, because he had a very special relationship with the Father.

What we really need to do is to determine what will help us to focus on God’s voice. And it may not be a conventional fast. Notice that in the Joel reading for Ash Wednesday, Joel says we need to rend our hearts, not our garments. Rend means to tear open, to split up. Joel is recommending that we open up our hearts, tear them open and make them bare in front of the Lord. Joel is suggesting this so we get our hearts set right, then we will be in a right relationship with God.

How can you do that? Well, first find out where your heart is. Is your heart with your routine, your pleasures, your job, your family? Wherever your heart is, that is what motivates you; it’s also what occupies your time, especially your discretionary time. So, why not try to find something that that your heart is set on and give some of that up for Lent.

By putting that something aside, you will do two things. You will open a place for God there. You may find yourself hurting for a while; but that’s why the process may take 40 days. Second, a little bit of self-giving goes a long way with God. If you really make a sacrifice out of your own wants from the heart; if your sincere motivation is to have a better relationship with God, then God will respond.

I think all of us have things that we really like to do that take up our time and sap our energy. These things are what our hearts are set on. Maybe it is TV, Facebook, going out with the girls, video games, or eating too much. In other words, maybe it is some of the things we usually try to fast from. But there are also those things that we just have to have our way. They may be stopping us from being obedient to God in some important way.

This Lent, try something different. Identify something that would be a real sacrifice for you, something that is a basic change in direction that you have wanted to make for a long time; something that is a change in heart; even something that opens your heart to vulnerability. And then pray that God will fill you with some new course in its place. My bet is that when you open your heart to the Lord that way, He will answer your prayer. He will fill you with his Love and will nudge you in a new direction.

As St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “Now is the acceptable time”. Yes, now is the acceptable time to make a difference.

Reflecting on Our Mortality

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Ash Wednesday Blessing/Distribution of Ashes

2 Cor 5: 20- 6: 2

Deacon Larry Brockman

In just a few minutes, each of you will be given ashes on your foreheads. Each of you will hear the words “You are dust and to dust you shall return” as the ashes are applied. And that is a reminder to all of us of our mortality. Yes, each of our bodies came from the earth, and they will return to the earth.

But that is not the destiny of the true believer, is it. For we all believe as Christians that our immortal souls will live on, forever, in the coming Kingdom of God. That is our hope and our destiny. The problem is that many of the children of this world just don’t believe that. Some don’t believe in God, some say they don’t know, and some don’t believe in the kingdom of God.   But it is different for those of us who believe. Each of us recognizes that we owe everything to God, and we live our lives as Jesus passed on to us in the Gospel in the hope that we will experience everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.

In God’s infinite goodness, he sent his son Jesus to be one of us. And the scripture we just read said this of Jesus: “For our sake he made him sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteous of God in him.” Jesus, God become man, took on our corruptible body, and humbled himself by living within the limitations of the human form. Jesus accepted God the Father’s will that he suffer, die, and be buried for three days; only to rise from the dead and take his rightful place at the right hand of the Father. Each of us is called to die unto ourselves, and accept God’s will for us. That includes the good things of life- our talents, joys, gifts, and families. But it also includes the suffering that life entails- disease, old age, separation from loved ones, and lots of other things. We know that if we do that, we will be saved.

But wait a minute. Paul is saying something else about our role as Christians. Paul says we have a responsibility to be “Ambassadors for Christ”. That’s how Paul opened up this reading. Just how do we do that, how do we become ambassadors for Christ, and what does that mean?

Well Paul mentioned a couple of things. First, he says we need to be reconciled to God. Being reconciled to God means that we are in harmony in our relationship with God. That is the reason for the Church season of Lent. Lent is the opportunity that each of us has each year, to reflect on our own relationship with God. It is a season of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting lasting 40 days. The 40 days represents the length of time that Jesus went away into the wilderness and reflected on his life before he started his 3 year public ministry. We are being asked to spend 40 days each year reflecting on our lives.

During Lent we are advised to practice almsgiving and fasting  As a way of divesting ourselves from whatever it is that diverts our attention from God. Fasting usually means food, but when you think about it there are probably other things we should fast from that free us up for a better relationship with God. Consider for example the time we spend watching TV.

And almsgiving usually means giving money to a worthy cause. But giving away anything that really helps someone else puts us into a spirit of self-denial, a sort of emptying of ourselves from pre-occupation with ourselves.

Both fasting and almsgiving can then be seen to facilitate our ability to be open and ready for what God has in mind for us when we pray and reflect.

Now when you reflect on your own sinfulness, you reflect on those things that you do or fail to do that hurt your relationship with God. Deep down, you know what those things are because your conscience works on you when you are free of the distractions and the hustle and bustle of life. God is nudging you, even nagging you, to repent- meaning change. Because no matter how you look at it, none of us is perfect; all of us are sinners and need reconciliation with God.

Now when we become reconciled with God, then we “become the righteousness of God in him”, as St. Paul says. And so, we will receive the grace of God. That grace works through the Holy Spirit to shine in us. And together, the light of Christ becomes as a beacon for the rest of our companions. They will know we are Christians by our love, the love of Christ. That’s how we become “Ambassadors for Christ”. That’s how we fulfill our Baptismal promise to evangelize, just as Jesus evangelized all of us- by example.

Our reading today ends in an interesting way. Paul says in the name of the Lord that “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” So Paul is speaking of Jesus role as our evangelizer. But he finishes by challenging all of us to do the same. For he tells us: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Why Should I Observe Lent?

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Ash Wednesday Service

Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18

Dc. Larry Brockman

Ashes! All of us are gathered here to receive ashes? Why?

Is it because it’s the thing to do?  Is it because you long for something different, some change in life?  Or is it because you hope the meaning of life will come into focus for you?

When you receive ashes, you will hear these words: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return”.  Yes, the real meaning of life in this world becomes blurred in the glitter and the attractions of the world.  After the joy and celebration of Christmas, the Church reminds us that life in this world is not about self-indulgence; it is not about the joys and fruits of the world.  All of that, good or bad as it seems, will end as it began for us- in ashes.  And it is certain to end in ashes.  So, what is life all about?

Jesus spent 40 days just after his Baptism reflecting on his life and mission.  His whole person was in turmoil- facing the promptings from the Spirit that told him what life in this world was really all about for him.  But Satan tormented him with the other side.  “You don’t have to suffer; you’ve got it Jesus; and I can make you anything you want; just worship me”.

And that’s the way it is for all of us too.  All of us are tempted to make our lives comfortable; to focus on what’s best just for me; rather than follow the tiny whispering sound of the Spirit working through our consciences to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.

The Gospel we read provides us Jesus’ advice on how to conduct our Lenten journey.  It was based on his own 40 days in the desert.  Find some time alone to reflect and pray.  And divest yourselves of attachments to things of this world.  He suggests three things.

The first suggestion is to give alms.  That means giving something to others.  But you don’t give alms to win points with those watching.  Rather, you do it to help you focus on others, not yourself.  Who or what is it that God is calling you to serve in this life?

And Jesus advises us to pray in a quiet of space, not openly for all to see.  Jesus is not against public and group prayer.  That’s not his point.  His point is that when you need reflective prayer, and all of us do, then that prayer is not for show, for others to see.  Rather, it is for us to get in tune directly with God so that the Spirit can help us to focus on God’s mission for us.  Where can you go and when can you go there so that Jesus has a chance to touch you in that way?

And lastly, Jesus advises us to fast.  Again, not to call attention to our self- induced suffering and how holy we are; but rather, so that we divest ourselves of what is blocking our spiritual growth.  Just what is it that is blocking your spiritual growth?  What is it that is taking so much of your time, so much of your energy, or so much of your resources that you cannot hear your inner voice; you cannot focus on God’s mission for you.  Give that up for Lent rather than beer or chocolate or coffee or whatever.  Maybe it’s TV or the Internet or, God forbid, Facebook!

Lent is an opportunity to come to grips with the real meaning of your life so you are ready for the Resurrection and life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.  Take advantage of the 40 days just as Jesus did.  Or the ashes you receive today will have lost their meaning.