Bishop Rhoades Visits Communion and Liberation Group in Honor of Father Luigi Giussani
The following homily was delivered by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during Mass on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, in the St. Thomas More Chapel at the University of Notre Dame:
Today, as you know, is the 18th anniversary of Father Giussani’s death and I am glad to celebrate this Mass in his memory with you, members of the Communion and Liberation community this evening. Normally I am reminded every year of this anniversary because Feb. 22 is the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. But today it falls on Ash Wednesday. Father Giussani saw Lent as “a sacramental time,” as “the sacramental instrument” for fostering conversion, “a time destined by God to give us a greater impetus of transformation. And Father Giussani spoke of the transforming power of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, helping us in our ongoing conversion to the Lord.
There are two formulas that can be used in the austere rite of the imposition of ashes today. I usually alternate formulas each year. I used the first formula last year, the formula that highlights our mortality: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I’ll use the second formula when I impose ashes at this Mass: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” This formula highlights conversion. In fact, it’s an appeal to conversion, to turn away from sin. Literally, the word convert, metanoia, means to change direction. Lent invites to change direction, to turn away from the things in our life that distance us from God. It is a turning away from sin.
Our conversion to the Lord took place at the beginning of our Christian life when we were baptized, but it is something that needs to happen and be renewed throughout our life. That’s why it’s good that the Church gives us the annual season of Lent, a time of repentance and conversion. How often we are tempted to leave the path of following Christ, tempted to withdraw into our selfishness and to live superficial lives of moral mediocrity, even if not lives of mortal sin, though we should beware that such a fall is always possible. We can get swept up in materialism, sometimes without even noticing it. Almsgiving is a good corrective. Or we can get swept up in seeking mere pleasure, hence the benefit of fasting. Or we can become immersed in the secularism that ignores or forgets God, and grow distant from the Lord. Hence, the deeper commitment or recommitment to prayer that is part of the Lenten season.
Notice the formula for the imposition of ashes doesn’t only say “turn away from sin,” it also says “and be faithful to the Gospel.” In turning away from sin, “we entrust ourselves to the living and personal Gospel which is Jesus Christ.” As Pope Benedict XVI once said: “Jesus Christ is our final goal and the profound meaning of conversion, He is the path on which all are called to walk through life, letting themselves be illumined by His light and sustained by His power which moves our steps.” So, conversion isn’t just a moral decision. It’s “a choice of faith that wholly involves us in close communion with Jesus as a real and living Person.” Repentance, conversion, is a no to sin, a no to temptation, a no to the devil. It is also a yes — a yes to the Gospel, a yes to Jesus who offers Himself to us as the way, the truth, and the life, as the One who sets us free and saves us.
In our Lenten journey, the Lord is inviting us to follow him more decisively and consistently. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us to do so, when done with humility, not seeking to be seen and praised, as we heard in the Gospel.
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul exhorts us in these words: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” He appeals to us “not to receive the grace of God in vain.” And he proclaims: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” These words of Saint Paul apply at all times but they have special meaning in the season of Lent. Lent is certainly “an acceptable time” for receiving the grace of God with greater openness. This requires turning away from sin and being reconciled with God. So, confessing our sins and receiving God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation should be an important part of our Lenten journey. But it’s not enough to focus on our sins and weaknesses. We must do so with our eyes fixed not on ourselves, but on Jesus, our merciful Savior, and uniting ourselves with the Mystery of Him who, though He knew no sin, God made to be sin for our sake. It is good during Lent to contemplate the sorrowful face of Jesus, the face of Christ crucified, who out of love gave His life for us.
The most sublime gift of Lent is Jesus Himself. We should make sure that He, and not ourselves, is at the center of our Lenten journey. We are uniting ourselves with Jesus in His forty days in the desert. It is spiritually beneficial to meditate on the sorrowful mysteries of Our Lord’s passion and death — to be with Him in His agony in the garden, in His trials before the Sanhedrin and before Pontius Pilate, in His being scourged and crowned with thorns, in His carrying the cross, and in His crucifixion. Doing so can move us to deeper repentance and conversion. The Lord draws us and moves us by grace to respond to His merciful love and to receive anew the salvation He won for us. Gazing at Jesus, we can set out confidently and even joyfully on our Lenten journey, taking up our cross and walking with Him to Calvary, united with Him in His sacrifice of love, the sacrifice that is crowned by His Resurrection in which we hope to share. The Lenten season will end when we begin the Paschal Triduum at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday night. The Paschal Triduum is the celebration of Jesus’ hour, the hour of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The forty days of Lent prepare us for this celebration. At the same time, we know that at every Mass, the Paschal Mystery of our Lord, the mystery of His love unto the end, becomes present on the altar. The most important thing we will receive at this Mass is not the ashes, but the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. (Actually, not a thing, but the very Person of Jesus Himself, present under the appearances of bread and wine). Receiving ashes is a sign of our commitment to following Jesus more closely and to letting ourselves be transformed by His grace.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary accompany us on our Lenten journey and help us to proceed joyfully on our way towards Easter!