Hi everyone, this is my homily for MARCH 6, 2019 – ASH WEDNESDAY. The readings for today’s Mass can be found HERE Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim. Audio: Also you can get the audios of the homilies from iTunes as a Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fr-jim-cherns-homilies/id1440618142?mt=2
A few weeks ago, a student asked me if I had seen the television program, The Bachelor. She was asking more specifically because of a story line that is a part of the show this season, but my response kind of filled in the blanks to that question and any follow-ups she might have had: “Have I ever seen it? Yes… once, a few years ago… as a punishment for a bet I lost.”
Shocking, I’m sure, that this program isn’t really my thing. A reality show where a man is introduced to a number of women who are presented as possible “romantic interests” leading to a season finale of them getting married… There’s a whole list of things that I could rattle off that bother me about this show (as well as, to be fair, its companion show, the Bachelorette which flips the roles and has a woman introduced to a number of single guys with the same premise). When I looked at wikipedia, I couldn’t believe that the show in the US has had over 23 seasons since 2002. I realize I’m probably sounding like a grumpy old man if I’m overly critical here and I don’t want to make fun of it, especially for any fans out there.
But I do want to share one thing that really upset me the one time I saw the show. I don’t remember what season or the names of the people, but it was seeing this young lady – not only being crushed by rejection . . . “elimination” as she was unable to convince the bachelor to give her a rose to let her stay another week on the show and be considered a “finalist” for marriage . . . (OK there’s a bunch of things right there that really upset me, but I’m going to try to stay focused). The thing that was seriously soul crushing was hearing the young woman in tears sobbing as she explained that she was trying so hard to make the bachelor happy – trying desperately to get him to pick her as she said “What do I have to do to make you love me?”
I hadn’t thought about any of this till I was asked about the show a few weeks ago. And when I did, I realized that something changed for me about all of this. When I saw this one episode a few years ago, at the time, I remembered going off on a rant about how messed up it is that so many people watch something like that for entertainment – and how this was another sign that we’re nearing the end of the world. But on further thought, it hit me that shows like this aren’t just about entertainment. The reason a show like this stays on the air for years and years and years, season after season is in part because people can relate to the characters. Sure, it tries to appeal to some messed up desires we all struggle with and get people to imagine some of the “fantasy aspects.” But the “reality” of the “reality show” – the thing that hits closer to home is the rejection. The search and desire for love, to be loved…the lengths that people go through for that to happen…. and the painful stories and examples of being rejected are all probably things that many more of us can relate to, are much more common than that warped fantasy. What do I have to do to make you love me?
What does any of this have to do with Ash Wednesday? It’s an obvious thing that people in much greater numbers than at many other points in the year come to Mass, and think about their Catholic faith today more than at other times. And a great number of people recognize that their making it to Mass, well, maybe it’s been awhile. Some come today recognizing that things in their lives aren’t where they want them to be. Maybe there are relationships that have been strained. Maybe they’ve felt tension or anger not even necessarily directed at anyone in particular, maybe it’s directed at themselves… People feel more at ease slipping in today then at other times because the ashes and the fact that we acknowledge our sinfulness, our brokenness, seems universal.
But something that has hit me in recent years, especially serving here at Montclair State University for almost 12 years now – especially on a day like this – is how many people come in thinking this is one of the few times they’re welcome – telling themselves that “God is angry at me…” “I don’t even deserve to ask Him for anything because of (as they go through a list of sins that they beat themselves up over)…” “God doesn’t even know me….” And worse yet – “there’s no way God could love me.”
If there’s only one thing you ever remember during from your entire time at MSU… If there’s only one thing you ever remember from any or every Mass you’ve ever gone to or will go to – let it be this.
Jesus Christ loves you.
Jesus loves you, as you are right here, right now, faults, failures, sins and all.
Jesus loves you despite what you’ve done or haven’t done.
Jesus loves you despite the lies that others have told you or you’ve told yourself.
And unlike the twisted world that we live in where people have been treated and taught to believe that love is a competition limited to something that only a few people can win… that people can be “eliminated” – that’s not love – that’s not how Jesus views love. That’s not how Jesus views you.
Jesus loves you – right here and now.
Which is why that dirty, ashen cross traced on our head is meaningful. As we come forward, we’re acknowledging that restlessness and search of our hearts to be loved. And as the cross is traced on our heads, we are marked with the sign that says for all eternity – that love exists – that love is yours and mine. You and I didn’t have to do anything for it. Jesus loves you right here and now. That he loves you for you.
If we can let that sink in, then words we hear as we’re given the ashes all the more powerful. They’re an invitation to a different way of life: Repent, and believe in the Gospel. Jesus is inviting us to turn away from all those warped misconceptions of love… to turn away from all the things that we’ve used to substitute for love… to turn away from the sins, the temptations that have become obstacles and things that I just beat myself up for, over and over, again and again.
Which is why that image is on the cover of your booklets today. It’s a copy of the new painting we had commissioned for our chapel at the Newman Center called “Christ the True Friend.” Now, more than ever, we all need to focus on how Jesus meets us, loves us right where we are and gently, patiently, compassionately; how he wants to help us walk in a direction that brings fullness of life – not just when we die – but right here and now.
All of us from Newman Catholic are so happy you’re here today and we’d hope that we can assist you tomorrow, and every day thereafter: whether that’s through small groups, bible studies, community service, or countless other things we have going on every day. There are opportunities and people here everyday to help with that invitation to change, to reach out to the hand Jesus is extending , if that is something that is resonating in your heart right now. In addition, there’s confessions available all day today. But, however we can help, remember the one, take-home message of God’s love for you. If that’s all you remember from today, well, that’s a pretty good start.