Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Letter to Those Who Only Show Up on Ash Wednesday

Dear Friends in Christ,

Yesterday we began Lent together by having ashes imposed upon our heads. Some of you I see every Sunday at Mass. Some of you I see at daily Mass. I write this letter, in a particular way, to those of you who were there on Ash Wednesday, but who are not with us during the rest of the year.

No, I'm not writing this to scold you. I am writing this because of something that struck me during my third Mass of the day. As I sat looking out at all of you, I was deeply moved by your presence. In an age when the culture is becoming increasingly secular and increasingly antagonistic towards religious belief, you were in church, waiting to have some guy put dirt on your forehead. 

Just as I was thinking about this, St. Paul's words in the second
reading were being proclaimed: "We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor 6:1).  And when I heard these words, my heart was really moved for all of you. Unlike people of past ages, you are no longer really sustained by the remnants of a Catholic culture.  In other words, you aren't attending Ash Wednesday Mass out of an attachment to some archaic religious rule or custom. For the most part, we've moved beyond that in our current culture. All around you, religious practice is declining, discouraged, and derided. And there you were, bowing your head and being marked with ashes. Why?

I think that you were being given a special grace. Those of you who never attend Mass or who find yourselves immersed in all manner of sin, why were you there on Ash Wednesday? I think you came because you knew that Jesus was calling out to you. In the midst of such a confusing and hostile environment, He was inviting you to repent from sin and to follow Him. He was inviting you to be His friend, to walk in His path, to be His disciple. You heard His call. Something in you was open to this invitation. You did not say, "No." 

And so, with St. Paul, I want to appeal to you not to receive this grace of God in vain. Do not waste this grace that he has given to you. Do you hear Christ calling you to turn away from some sin in your life? Do you hear Him inviting you to a deeper friendship with Him? Do you hear Him saying to you, "Come, follow me"? Perhaps you have been afraid to say, "Yes" to Him in the past. Perhaps you have been afraid to leave certain sins behind you. Perhaps you have been fearful that you might fail, so you never take the first step. Perhaps you feel too weak to follow. Perhaps you feel as though others are too far ahead of you for you to join in their company, as though everyone else were a Catholic expert and you the only beginner. Perhaps, you keep putting it off because you think there will be plenty of time in the future to be His friend; His disciple.

But, you were there on Ash Wednesday. You were already saying, "Yes." In some small way, you said  "Yes" to His grace.  Today, I want to urge you not to receive that grace in vain. That grace was given to you so that you can live a full friendship with Christ. He is calling out to you with urgency and with love: "Come, follow me!" Do not let His grace be in vain. Allow His grace to permeate your whole being. Let Jesus change your life. Let Him set you free.

So often in the Gospels, we see that Jesus encountered various persons as He was passing by from one place to another. This reveals to us that Christ is on the move. We can only accept His grace when it is given to us. We should not put it off for another day, because we never know whether He will pass this way again. There is an urgency to Christ's mission. On Ash Wednesday, He passed by and He saw you. He called to you because He loves you. He wants you to be at His side. You took that first step. Now, do not receive that grace in vain! Continue to walk with Him!

The Catholic Center community at Boston University is here for you. If you want to continue to say, "Yes" to Christ and to walk by His side, but are uncertain how to do so, please come walk in our company. We are in this together. We help one another, encourage one another, and support one another. We build one another up in Faith.  As a personal example of this, I can say that your presence at Ash Wednesday Mass really encouraged me and awakened in me a desire to be a better friend to Christ and a more faithful disciple. Perhaps you could use some encouragement like that? If so, know that we are here for you.

In your heart, you know that Jesus is giving you grace. I appeal to you not to receive that grace in vain! 

Your Brother in Christ,

Fr. David Barnes

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