Ash-Wednesday Homily

These days everyone demands “transparency.” Transparency in decision-making; transparency in government; “transparent” accounting. And why not? Honest people tend not to have something to hide.

But in the gospel at Holy Mass, the Lord tells us to keep secrets—namely, our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent. “Transparency” makes a nice buzzword. But we have to face the facts about the obscurity in which we find ourselves.

Pope Francis ashesAfter all, we frequent church precisely to acknowledge that what we cannot see exceeds in greatness what we can see. We walk by faith–faith in divine mysteries.

At the font, when each of us received the sacrament of Baptism, everyone there saw the ritual. But only from heaven could they see the whole thing: the cleansing of the soul by Christ’s Precious Blood and the supernatural unification with His Body.

And what could be less “transparent” than the Mass? The angels see Jesus, risen from the dead, in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. But we do not see Him with our eyes. This Catholicism thing is a pretty daggone obscure business.

Even more: Can I claim to be transparent to myself? Sure, I want the government to operate in a transparent manner. But do I operate in a transparent manner? I hardly understand the inner workings of my own appetites and desires. It takes a lot of work even to achieve enough clarity with myself to see how big a sinner I am.

But it’s not hopeless. All this obscurity is not meant to last forever.

The mysteries of our faith promise resurrection. Lord Jesus rose from the dead. In His risen Body, He possesses utter human transparency: Himself, body and soul, irradiated with divine light.

We believe in this. And we hope that we, too, will rise and share in that brilliant human transparency.

In the meantime, we struggle in obscurity. We pray in secret, fast in secret, and give alms in secret. Our Father above sees what is hidden. And He will repay our obscure sacrifices with the glory of His perfectly clear light.

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