When I first looked at the readings today I thought it was a mistake. I thought that the website I look at for the daily scripture must’ve gotten their “Wednesday’s” confused and that we were being directed to Ash Wednesday. That was the last time we heard this exact Gospel, which was 16 weeks ago… 4 months ago. In this suspended animation of time we’ve been living with it’s hard to characterize how long ago that actually feels. So much has changed – seemingly very quickly; so much has been unsettled and remains unresolved… Think back to Ash Wednesday, can you even remember what your “lenten penance” the thing that you were going to take on or give up – what that even was? How did you imagine that your lent was going to go? Out of curiosity, I went back and looked at my Ash Wednesday homily to get a sense of where I was… I usually look at Ash Wednesday with great anticipation – we have 4 Masses on campus in one of the large ballrooms in the Student Center that is filled with students, faculty, staff and administrators from MSU – we have confession available all day – it’s heartening as a priest to see so many people come out – some looking to get reconnected to their faith after some time, some not quite sure why they are coming… As a priest on that day, and especially here on a University campus, you could not have a wider spectrum of people from the person who’s at Mass every single day to someone who wanders in who hasn’t been to “Church” in years. But that’s what makes it so exciting personally…
I recognize I have no idea where they are coming from – but God does. He sees and knows each and every heart. He’s calling, prodding, moving, encouraging, trying desperately to catch our attention… and the Gospel of Ash Wednesday, the same one we have today re-affirms that. Jesus is telling us that every act, every movement, every shift we make, especially when it’s directed towards the praise, the honor, the worship of God – He sees and knows those too.
That’s a really important thing for us to focus on, especially in this post-pandemic period (I think we’re in the post or entering the post period… depends on who you listen to when) – I’m thinking of two different people who had reached out to me in the last couple of days. One person was sharing the difficulty they had live-streaming the Mass – that the wifi wasn’t strong, there was something wrong with facebook, they were so frustrated that in the end he felt “it defeated the purpose.” In looking at this Gospel I need to reach back to him and say, take comfort – your Father who sees in secret will repay you (Jesus is more eloquent than what I was trying to convey). Or the person who went to their Church for the first time on Monday and were turned away because the capacity allowed right now was reached. This person telling me how they got into their car, started to cry, furiously ripping their mask off and driving away. To that person, who was so aggravated and disturbed I tried to reassure them it wasn’t in vain and that in fact they had gone to Mass. She replied “you’re just being nice.” And I just pushed back that the tears and anger were just pent up frustration after months of understandable frustrtation. Heck I ran 6 miles in 53 minutes today so yeah – we all have a reservoir of frustration for sure. But the point that she had gone out of her way to get to Church, during the week, early so she could go to Mass for the first time in months – there’s no doubt, your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
A friend of mine, Fr. Mike Schmitz, in his homily on this past Sunday made a point that was so good I tweeted it and have been thinking about it ever since. “The Mass is about Jesus… the moment that worship becomes about ‘what I get’ it has ceased to be an act of love and has become an act of idolatry.” As we still stumble our way into transitioning back into going to Mass, that’s an important thing for us to remember. All of our best efforts to remain connected during these weeks of quarantine – as you wrestle kids to sit down and try to stay focused – as your netflix seems to work effortlessly but your parishes Mass does not… None of those things have been in vain – and even as uncomfortable, as awkward, as unnerving as our “returns” are – we need to keep our motives clear… our Father who sees in secret appreciates all that we’re doing – sees the obstacles that we’ve had to suffer through – and will indeed repay us for any and everything we do to try to grow closer to Jesus.