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Transformation and Conversion

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Over my years in ministry, I have heard many different interpretations for why we take up practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent. I’ve heard that we take up these practices for the sake of suffering as Jesus suffered. Another common theme is that we do these practices as a form of penance for our sinfulness, or that we take on these practices as a kind of personal testing, as Jesus was tested in the wilderness, to see if our faith holds up. The list goes on.

While there is some element of truth in each of these interpretations, what they lack is that they often make the practices ends in themselves. We suffer for the sake of suffering, or undergo a test for the sole purpose of saying we did it.

But the Gospel for today shows us what we are truly aiming for: transfiguration, transformation. This passage from Mark is widely understood as a revelation of the true reality of the crucifixion—that what on the face of it looks to be gory destruction, is actually the glorification of Jesus Christ. So too, our Lenten practices are not meant to be just brutal sacrifices for the sake of brutal sacrifice; they are meant to be transformative. They are meant to bring about the glory of God through our own transfiguration. The goal of Lent is not suffering, it is conversion. We too are meant to be “dazzling white.”

So this Lent, may we keep this perspective as we strive and struggle to hold fast to our resolutions. May we remember the ultimate goal is conversion, and allow the Lord to use our successes and failures to lead us closer to Christ and make us more Christian, more Christ-like.

The Need to See Some Skin

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There is this delightful story about a four year old child who awoke one night frightened by a dream. She could not fall back asleep, and her mind convinced her that there in the darkness of her room, lay in waiting, an assortment of monsters and ghosts.

Alone, she ran to her parent’s bedroom. Her mother calmed her down and taking her by the hand, led her back to her own room. Her mother put on the light to dispel the demons and reassured her child with these words, “You needn’t be afraid, you are not alone here. God is in the room with you.”

The girl replied “I know that God is here, but I need someone in this room who has some skin!”

This is what the apostle Thomas is, in essence, asking of the resurrected Jesus. He’s saying,” I need to see some skin.” This is the best explanation for our whole experience with Jesus, since his announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel - until this moment.

This Easter is unlike any I have ever had. How about you? I long to celebrate with someone who has some skin. Maybe this Easter we can celebrate knowing Jesus came in the flesh, died, and then rose again. He sits at the right hand of the Father and is with us here on earth. We have been accustomed to our relationship with Jesus without some skin, and today, I ask you to unite with our entire St. Dominic Catholic Parish family…unite in love. Unite in the power of God’s love.

I ask you to close your eyes and think about being with people you enjoy, family, friends…Now open your eyes. How do you feel when you think about spending time with them? Now close your eyes again and think about stuff you have. Now think about spending time with the stuff…How does that make you feel? Which of the two feelings would you like to experience more often? That’s the power of God’s love.

This Lenten season, you were to tame your desires for stuff, to strengthen your will against things you thought you needed. This at-home experience is showing us what we really need, and to see the power of God’s love, the same love which raised Jesus from the dead…for us. To see again with new eyes. To see with the eyes of Jesus. His eyes see the value in relationships.

Have a blessed Easter. Until we can see each other in the flesh.

The Symbolism of Ashes

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The liturgical use of ashes can be found throughout the Old Testament. Ashes symbolized penance, mourning, and mortality. the prophet Daniel wrote, "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes." -Daniel 9:3. This and other Old Testament examples illustrate a recognized practice of using ashes and a common understanding of their symbolism.

Jesus Himself made reference to ashes: "If they miracles worked in you had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, they would have reformed in sackcloth and ashes long ago." -Matthew 11:21

In the early Church, those required to do public penance had the priest sprinkle ashes on their heads upon leaving confession. Since the Middle Ages, the Church has used ashes to mark the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, as we remember our mortality and sorrow for our sins.

In our present Ash Wednesday liturgy, ashes made from burned palm branches distributed on Palm Sunday of the previous year, are blessed by the priest or deacon and imposed on the foreheads of the faithful, making a sign of the cross and saying, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

 

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