"From dust you came and to dust you shall return."
It's Ash Wednesday again...probably the most well-attended non-obligatory day in the Church year. I believe that for many Catholics Ash Wednesday has taken on the traditional spirit of New Years - a time to reflect, repent, and refocus on the important aspects of life.
As a daughter, a wife and a mother, I’ve discovered that throughout the journey of our faith life, we have opportunities to either live as Christ teaches or turn to another teacher, whatever or whoever that may be.
I learned my first lesson about dying in Christ around the age of 18 when my parents became foster parents to at-risk infants. You’ll most likely find my 50 year old mother in her rocking chair, priming a feeding pump, or in a waiting room at a hospital or therapy clinic.
We weren’t always a foster family. We were an average family with three daughters. My mother had always wanted more, but after some serious health diagnoses she accepted God’s plan for the 5 of us. A registered nurse turned stay-at-home mom, she kept her nursing license current “just in case”. Though she had always wanted to do foster care, my dad wasn’t so sure. In 2002, our parish hosted a ministry fair that included a local social service agency looking for foster and adoptive parents. My dad’s heart softened and God’s seed began to germinate. They began the preparation courses. After a cross-country move and a few less than Godly obstacles, they completed their licensure as foster parents.
We have had more babies than you can count on both hands, each one with their own need, their own family, and their own lesson for us.
When this process began, I had my feelings of replacement and frustration. I was the first out of the house and even before I was gone there was someone there to take my place. Our first little pixie, who to this day has a piece of my heart, took my mom away from me during a time of great transition to adulthood. The close relationship mom and I had built seemed, at best, an afterthought. It put a strain on my relationship with my dad who became the buffer for my frustration, and with my sister who has always been my mom’s ultimate champion.
As the years have passed and my own family has grown, I have been in a constant process of prayer and conversion. God offers me the patience and grace I need to die to myself and know that this is what the example of Jesus and the sacrament of the Eucharist is all about. While I can’t honestly write that I am on board with the choice and its implications all the time, I know that something that requires this much love and this much sacrifice must be a call from God. While I selfishly worry about my children’s grandparents and the time they have to spend with them and with each other, I trust that Mom and Dad are in constant discernment. I know that as God calls them to this, He also provides the time and nourishment they need to be sustained in their vocation. Today, I am so blessed to say that my children will never know a limited definition of family.
And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region o Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyon in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.
Sermon on the Plain
And raising his eyes towardy his disciples he said:
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
Love of Enemies
But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Event sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”And he told them a parable, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.
The Sermon on the Plain is a good summary of Jesus’ teachings.
Scripture asks us regularly to die to ourselves and live in Christ.
The past 8 weeks of my life have been yet another lesson in dying in Christ. Having recently moved, I was fixated on the words “Christmas at home” this year. I had visions of stockings, warm cookies, and Christmas crafts dancing my head. And then the doctor said the word, “cancer” to my mother-in-law the first week of December. The potholders hit the floor just about as fast as I hit my knees.
The words “career path” had been on my heart and in my sights until the second week of December when the thermometer read 103 degrees and my beautiful children couldn’t keep anything down. I spent as much time on my knees cleaning as I did praying. After two weeks, no career success has ever felt as good as the moment the fever breaks and your child sleeps comfortably.
The words “Superbowl” and “finished basement” beckoned us into a January lull until a frantic phone call from my father with words like, “complications”, “pain management” and “6-8 week recovery” sent me rushing to the aid of my mother and foster siblings. In place of a Superbowl, I got a bowl of spaghettios. Instead of basement moulding, I got to clean moldy food out of the refrigerator. Instead of a planning the Confirmation of 50 young people, I found myself living mine.
Things don’t often go as we think they should and as much as I hate to admit it, each of these moments were moments when I found frustration before I found Christ. The frustration stems from a place of topsy-turvy priorities. It was in the second moment where I realized that I had let something else be my guide instead of Christ, and that I had to commit myself to a conversion of heart with Christ as my guide.
We all have moments when we allow someone or something else be our guide, leader and teacher. Perhaps it is the people we spend time with, our families, our society, our government or president, the promise of comfort or money or power.
I’d like you to take a moment and ask yourself, how have I failed to live up to the teachings of Christ? How do I need to die to myself in order to know the joy of living with Christ?
God promises us something beyond death. In dying to ourselves, God promises us life. This cookie is an Easter tradition in my family. The resurrection cookie is a reminder that beyond death is something greater - the empty tomb and the resurrection. The resurrection is the reason we fast - that we are better able to feast on the life and sustance the Lord gives to us through his Son and Spirit.