Ash-Wednesday Generation

If you asked a priest: On which day of the liturgical year have you celebrated Mass in the most-crowded church?

Among the priests of the preceding generation, I think all would certainly say, Christmas or Easter.

But I would give you a different answer. I have celebrated Christmas and Easter Masses in some pretty crowded churches, to be sure. And Our-Lady-of-Guadalupe day—crowded. But when I think of the three or four most crowded Masses I have ever celebrated, they were all on the same liturgical day: Ash Wednesday.

buy the world a cokePerhaps a generational change has occurred. To speculate about what precisely this change is—perhaps it is futile to do so. But I have an idea.

Times change; the world changes. Our sense of what kind of state the world is in—that changes, too. Customs, habits–even the way we speak, the words we use—all these change. They change at a level deeper than politics, deeper than the cable-news cycle can cover. A generation passes, and the continental plates under the surface of our psychological earth shift. We look around us, and we see a different world than people saw a generation ago.

On Christmas, we rejoice that, in this world, the divine light shines through the darkness. Amen. On Easter we wear pastels, and sing, and smell the flowers. This is a beautiful earth, full of promise! Indeed.

The truths of Christmas and Easter are always true. And a generation ago, for whatever reason, the optimistic sentiments of these liturgical days predominated in the world at large. I remember, when I was a kid, everybody wanted to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company. World peace seemed right around the corner.

Fr Robert BarronAsh Wednesday, of course, has an altogether different tone. No pastels. And the optimism of faith lays shrouded in other emotions. We emblazon ourselves with crosses of mortal black. We quietly acknowledge: All is not well.

Our world is beautiful, sure. Hope springs eternal, sure. But, let’s face it: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Buy the world a Coke? Teach the world to sing? Instead of “Love is Flowing Like a River,” the song should probably begin with: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Maybe we could say this:

This Ash-Wednesday generation is distinguished by the following sentiment: Our beloved world has serious problems. Yes, there is great promise. Yes, we ourselves have promise. But the path towards realizing all our potential runs through a hard valley of penance and self-abandonment. The valley lays shrouded in darkness. We are not sure exactly how to follow the path. We might even go so far as to say that the human race, as a whole, appears not to know how to follow it. We need supernatural help. And we know that the only really reasonable way to start is to kneel down.

Life is short.  Pray hard.
Life is short. Pray hard.
A well-known priest has made a kind of mini-series about Catholicism. In one of the episodes, he discussed atheism.

He made an interesting point: “The god that atheists think we believe in, and whom they reject—I don’t believe in him, either. They think we believe in some kind of distant architect of perfection who just wound the world up, like a clock, a long time ago, so that it could run its own course, all by itself. But we do not believe in such a god.”

We believe in the real God. The real God is infinitely harder to understand than a distant clock maker. He is so much greater than we are, so much greater than the world He has made, that He can transcend us completely and still be closer to us than we are even to ourselves.

So: If we think that Ash Wednesday and Lent involve making shallow promises to some kind of far-away god, who just wants me to lose a few pounds— If we think our religion rises or falls on how many diet Cokes I drink between now and Easter—well, maybe we shouldn’t even bother.

But if I am ready to start an adventure, an adventure that involves getting closer to the infinitely transcendent, thoroughly mysterious God Who loves this world enough to die on a cross to save it—if we are ready for that humbling thrill-ride of a Lent, we can make an excellent start together today.

One thought on “Ash-Wednesday Generation

  1. Father Mark,

    HAPPY Lent: that’s right, HAPPY! For those who take joy in the rhythms of life, nothing can be more satisfying than the Spring of the Soul. One book describes confession as an age-old institution, not one that suddenly materialized when Christianity appeared to the Western World. Confession doesn’t just lie at the heart of Lent; it also lies in the core of all humanity. Mass @ 6:30 AM, today at St. Raphael’s was notable for the number of young persons in attendance (most were young women, but there were also a number of younger men).

    As for the “Catholicism” (surprise, no written credit is given to Fr. Robert Barron, but his picture is front and center; and his name IS in the file name for this picture). if anything, “He who sings well, prays twice.” may have met its prosaic match in this writing. It’s falleng in love with the Church all over again, reading — at last — something that puts words to what is thought, felt, and reasoned. It actually weaves together so many theological and traditional practices of the Roman Catholic Church that it makes a readily-viewable tapestry of the vast body of the work.

    The fact that he uses wonderful mnemonic, travelogue-style devices as a backdrop (on the DVD series AND in the book) and a peripatetic style (again, in both the DVD, and, if you will, the book — which is probably why you refer to it as a “mini-series”), makes him the Rick Steves of Catholicism [but, in no way diminishes his message].

    “He who writes well can change the course of civilization.” [and, yes, you can quote me; BUT, before you do, look at the saints we revere; most wrote, a few were written about by others, a few have come down by oral tradition — later written about — and some of this few have now been debunked as “saints”, though the traditional actions or qualities for which they are known are still revered]. Don’t believe about the effect of writing? Who wrote “He who sings well, prays twice.”? [St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 73, 1]

    The rest of the saints — and, let’s face it, we ALL know at least a few — lie unremarked in grave yards. But, their imprint is woven into the vast tapestry of humanity. Christ-like behavior does not go unnoticed; it persists in generational experience; and, eventually, becomes imprinted in our genetic makeup. This might explain the reason the Bible says that the Lord punishes the sins of the father to three or four generations, but continues His love for the righteous to the thousandth generation (Exodus 34: 6b-7)

    Again, HAPPY Lent!

    In God we trust.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s