Javascript Redirect

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lent 2014: When the heavens meet earth

As we prepare for Lent we might reflect on the place of creation throughout salvation history. We do so because the dialogue between heaven and earth culminated in Jesus Christ—true God, true man, the Word of God made present now for the ages in the Eucharist.

I’ve posted below three related reflections. The first is part of a powerful Lenten homily, the second is an appropriate passage of Isaiah to guide our thoughts, and the third is a video from an artist who has captured (perhaps without knowing it) some of what we encounter in the homily and in Isaiah.

We begin with a particularly moving homily by Pope Benedict XVI on Ash Wednesday, 2012. Here’s a portion:
Firstly, ashes are one of the material signs that bring the cosmos into the Liturgy. The most important signs are those of the Sacraments: water, oil, bread and wine, which become true sacramental elements through which we receive the grace of Christ which comes among us. The ashes are not a sacramental sign, but are nevertheless linked to prayer and the sanctification of the Christian people. In fact, before the distribution of ashes on the heads of each one of us — which we will soon do — they are blessed according to two possible formulas: in the first, they are called “austere symbols”, in the second, we invoke a blessing directly upon them, referring to the text in the Book of Genesis which can also accompany the act of the imposition: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (cf. Gen 3:19).
Thus the sign of the Ashes recalls the great fresco of creation which tells us that the human being is a singular unity of matter and of the Divine breath, using the image of dust moulded by God and given life by the breath breathed into the nostrils of the new creature.
In Genesis, the symbol of dust takes on a negative connotation because of sin. Whereas before the fall the soil was a totally good element, irrigated by spring water (cf. Gen 2:6) and through God’s work was capable of producing “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen 2:9).
After the fall and the divine curse it was to produce only “thorns and thistles”, and only in exchange for the “toil” and the “sweat of your face” would it bear fruit (cf. Gen 3:17-19). The dust of the earth no longer recalls the creative hand of God, one that is open to life, but becomes a sign of an inexorable destiny of death: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).
I end the quotation at that iconic Ash Wednesday phrase, but the homily does not end with death. How could it? The genius of Benedict XVI is in how he brings the scriptures into focus by reminding us of its promise of eternal life. Like few others, he teaches by calling our attention to what we should see so clearly. 

The Prophet Isaiah accentuates the Hebrew Scripture's use of creation imagery. Here he does so to portray the reach of God into the worldly realm. This is one of my favorite passages in all scripture.

         For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
         nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD. 
         For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
         so are my ways higher than your ways, 
         my thoughts higher than your thoughts. 

         Yet just as from the heavens 
         the rain and snow come down 
         And do not return there 
         till they have watered the earth, 
         making it fertile and fruitful, 
         Giving seed to the one who sows 
         and bread to the one who eats, 

          So shall my word be 
          that goes forth from my mouth; 
          It shall not return to me empty, 
          but shall do what pleases me, 
          achieving the end for which I sent it. (Is. 55:8-11)

And lastly, I end with this video from Nicolaus Wegner, an artist in Wyoming. As St. Bonaventure and so many other saints and Christian mystics tell us, we can more easily ponder the creator by standing in awe of creation. This video excels at doing just that: allowing nature’s majesty—its laws, its beauty, its power—to remind us that there are realities greater than us. As the anceint writers of scripture knew, taking time to see what's going on overhead is a good way to consider how our ways are not God's ways. And that should remind us that it really is best to repent and live His Gospel, which guides us from death into life.

May God bless and protect you all this Lent. 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting. No input or question is too small. You're encouraged to be passionate, feisty, and humorous. But do so with civility, please.