On Wednesday, March 1, the Regis High School community gathered at the Church of Saint Ignatius Loyola to celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Below is a reprint of Jim Croghan, SJ's homily delivered at the Mass.
Readings: Joel 2: 12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
We have heard the readings beautifully proclaimed and I will not spend time repeating them here. I’d like to take a different path in our reflection this morning. To begin: Mr. Peterson, would you please lead us in the first verse of the opening hymn? [Sing first verse of opening hymn.] Thank you, Mr. Peterson.
It’s a beautiful hymn, maybe the best known in the country: Amazing grace! how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
How many wretches here this morning…?
OK. We have a few, about 20 hands went up, mostly seniors. Mr. Scacalossi, did you raise your hand…? Thanks. I figured you would.
What’s a wretch? Let’s look at the definition.
1. a deplorably unfortunate or unhappy person.
2. a person of despicable or base character.
3. a despicable or contemptible person.
(Scac, are you paying attention?)
Here are some synonyms: scoundrel, villain, rogue, rascal, reprobate, criminal, miscreant, good-for-nothing; heel, creep, louse, rat, swine, dog, lowlife, sleazeball, sleazebag; poor creature, poor soul, poor thing, poor unfortunate.
So, how many wretches are here this morning…? Still a few!
Yesterday afternoon I was talking with a Jesuit in my community who is very active in jail and prison ministry. Every week he leads a prayer group at a jail downtown. Last Friday, one of the inmates read from the first chapter of Mark’s gospel. When he put down the text he said, “I’m in jail. But I don’t feel that I’ve been imprisoned. I feel rescued.” He went on, “I see my life differently now, all the things I did that put me in here.” Then he kind of shouted out, “I need a Savior.” And he was finding his Savior through reading the bible, praying, reflecting, discussing.
That man is in jail this morning downtown. And here we are in church this morning uptown. About 5 miles from each other but worlds apart. What I want to suggest, though, is this: In a very important way that man incarcerated downtown has an advantage over us. He has faced his wretchedness. He’s looked within himself at all the things which imprisoned him metaphorically, and which contributed to his physical and very real imprisonment today. He has faced the deep truth about himself and his life will never be the same because of it.
Wretch is a strong word. In truth, I doubt if anyone here this morning is truly wretched. In fact, whenever I talk about Regis and describe my experience working here my response is usually something like this: Regis is more than 500 of the nicest kids you’d ever want to meet. A school full of guys who like to learn, who like to read and have spirited discussions, students who can be passionate and generous and caring. And Regis is a stellar and highly professional faculty and staff. And if the person asking is still listening I then go on to talk about the generous alumni and great parents and families who give so much time and talent to all things Regis. This really is a wonderful place to work. OK. So none of you are wretches. But no matter how nice we are, no matter how good we are, no matter how kind and generous we are we all need to face the truth about ourselves. I believe Lent is just the time to do this.
It’s a time to enter into the deep truth about ourselves, and to let that truth make us uncomfortable. And the greater the discomfort the better, because if we feel it deeply enough we might actually do something about whatever causes the discomfort.
When I face the truth about myself I have to face, among many other things, my racism, my homophobia, my anti-Semitism. Maybe once upon a time I could have said to myself, and probably did say to myself, I’m not really racist. I’m not really homophobic. I’m not really anti-Semitic. There’s nothing really explicit, or intentional or even conscious about it. But that doesn’t change this deep truth that I know about me.
And how do I know this? I’ve had great mentors, teachers, and friends who have helped me face these truths about myself because they thought enough of me and loved me sufficiently to help me see myself more truly. It’s uncomfortable, for sure. But I’ve learned that the greater the discomfort, the more sure I am that the path I’m on is the right one. It’s a path that has opened up a whole world to me and which has expanded what I read, who I go hear speak, what I get involved in. It continues to change me.
What’s my hope for myself in facing the truth about myself? Certainly to be more loving, compassionate, inclusive, just. In a word, to be a better human being. To know myself as a person created in the image and likeness of God and to see all other people created in that same image and likeness. To recognize and respect the fundamental human dignity of every person, everywhere, no matter what.
Lent is all about preparing ourselves for and looking ahead to the great feast of Easter. But it is also about remembering. Remembering God’s promises and God’s fidelity. About remembering our need for a Saviour.
I’d like to end using the prayer from today’s morning prayer we heard in school before coming over here to church. I thought it was rather beautiful and spoke to some of what I tried to say here.
Today when we receive ashes we will hear one of two things, “repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” As you receive the ashes consider the words that are being said as the cross is formed on your forehead, what they mean to you, and what they are asking of you. (Pause.) Gracious God, today begins a period of inner reflection and examination. The days stretch before us and invite us inward to that silent, holy space that holds your Spirit. This special time beckons us to see our lives through Christ's eyes and the truth and reality of your love incarnate. Give each of us the grace to enter the space of these days with anticipation of our meeting. And, when we open our souls to your presence, let your loving kindness flow over us and seep into the pockets of our hearts. Amen.
March 1, 2017
Church of St. Ignatius Loyola.