At the outset of this week’s reflection it is helpful to remind ourselves of the real meaning of one section in both versions of the Creed we proclaim as our basic profession...
Brace yourselves, and be men and women of valour
– we have this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to be ready for Lent. On Wednesday we will be called to stand and deliver! However, we should be of good heart because this Sunday’s readings all provide us with powerful pre-Lenten motivations.
LEVITICUS [13: 1 – 2. 44 – 46]
could be personally applied? In a strange way Lent is a lonely time (because it is very personal and intimate period) and it is proper that we “shall dwell alone outside the camp …,” but we start with a personal admission that each one of us does have areas of living which are “unclean.” We need a little time before Ash Wednesday to determine what areas of our personal life need to be ‘tidied up’. No good waiting for Wednesday in order to be clearly focused on what my personal plan and strategy should be about.
No one is asking me to be of a generally dishevelled appearance and publicly proclaim my uncleanness but I need to know for myself. Then, I present myself to the priest, and joyfully accept the ashes, and commit my Lenten plan
and strategy to the Lord. However, the community (the public admission) is not forgotten because I do not receive the ashes in private. My ‘aloneness’ must be united with that of others. I am alone in a community – and the fact that each individual member of this community is also ‘alone’ provides me with strength and determination in exactly the same way that I strengthen and encourage others in their plans and strategies.
the PSALM [32 or 31] brings together all that has so far been said. In the very first place must be the certainty that the Lord is “a hiding place for me; (I am) surrounded with (his) deliverance.” I am never outside the camp on my own. In addition, the Psalm assures us that the Lord has “forgiven the guilt of my sin,” and this is why I start Lent with joy, peace and contentment: “rejoice in the Lord, exult you just! Ring out your joy, all you upright of heart.” I must not start Lent guilt-ridden, feeling downtrodden and miserable.
Why is this? In the NEW TESTAMENT READING [1 CORINTHIANS 10: 31 – 11:1] Saint Paul tells us “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” It does not really matter what exactly my Lenten Plan may or may not be. What does matter is that I am doing it for the Lord and “not for my own advantage.” I have not got to prove anything in Lent – prove to myself or to the Lord. I am simply trying to be alone in order to know the Lord and myself better.
our GOSPEL [MARK 1: 40 – 45] is of special value. The leper “came to Jesus.” It was a free act and the man knew precisely what he wanted. We have to go to the Lord on Ash Wednesday – go freely and willingly but also to know clearly what we want. There is no compulsion. (by the way, contrary to a commonly held fallacy, Ash Wednesday is not a day of obligation. We do not have to attend Mass …. but we are ‘obliged’ to a day of abstinence and (age exemptions apart) fast.
Jesus responds fully. The man is cleansed of his leprosy. The Lord will respond to us and he will make us clean.
Why did Jesus ask the man not to talk about it – he must have known that would not happen? However, the man was no longer alone, outside the camp. He must have felt the need to be fully integrated.
SO MUST WE!