Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church
Hot Springs Village, Arkansas
I am convinced that the reason Pope Francis picked this year to be the Year of Mercy is because we are reading from Luke’s Gospel which is known as the Gospel of Mercy.  In every one of Luke’s parables he shows us a different aspect of mercy but the message is always the same - God wants us back, wants us home with him, rejoicing in his house.  The 15th chapter of Luke has three parables of mercy in it.  The first one is the story of the lost sheep and the second is about the lost coin.  Both are stories about searching, seeking what was lost and bringing it home.  These stories tell us a lot about our merciful God.  A God that leaves 99 sheep to look for one that could already be dead.  A God that spends all his time and energy looking for one silly coin when he has 9 other perfectly good ones.  Everyone that heard these stories must have stood there shaking their heads.  Crazy, doesn’t make sense.  No-one would do that.  But our God does because he wants us back!  Then we come to today’s parable, a story about a father, two sons, sin and mercy. 

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The First Sunday of Lent and in just four days we have moved from ashes to the desert and a time of testing.  Ashes, desert, testing: three ideas, three thoughts to begin our Lenten journey. 

First ashes.  Why are ashes so popular, why do so many people get ashes?  I suspect it is because as a symbol they are blunt, primal and they speak the language of the soul.  Something inside each of us knows exactly why we receive ashes:  “Remember you are dust and unto dust you will return!”  There is no explanation needed; the message is clear.  It is no accident that ashes have always been a major symbol within all religions.  We see it throughout the bible; to put on ashes, to sit in ashes, is to say publicly and to ourself that we are in a penitential, a reflective mood.  This is not “ordinary time” for us or a season of celebration.  We are grieving some of the things we have done and are waiting for a better time.  This is truly the “fast” before the “feast.”  There is a story that we all know that brings this out beautifully - Cinderella.  That very name comes from two words:  cinder or ashes and the latin word puella or young girl.  Literally it means the young girl who sits in the cinders, the ashes.  The story says it all, before the glass slipper is placed on her foot, before the beautiful gown, and the ball, there must be a period of sitting in the ashes, of being smudged, of being humbled, and of waiting.  She has to “fast” before the “feast.”  That is the story of Lent.

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On Ash Wednesday Father made a comment that more people come to church to receive ashes than come on a Holyday.  Why are ashes so popular, why do so many people get ashes?  I suspect it is because as a symbol they are blunt, primal and they speak the language of the soul.  Something inside each of us knows exactly why we receive ashes:  “Remember you are dust and unto dust you will return!”  There is no explanation needed; the message is clear.  It is no accident that ashes have always been a major symbol within all cultures and religions.  We see it throughout the bible; to put on ashes, to sit in ashes, is to say publicly and to ourself that we are in a penitential, a reflective mood.  This is not “ordinary time” for us and not a season of celebration.  We are grieving some of the things we have done and are waiting for a better time.  This is truly the “fast” before the “feast.”  There is a story that we all know that brings this out beautifully - Cinderella.  That very name comes from two words:  cinder or ashes and the latin word puella or young girl.  Literally it means the young girl who sits in the cinders, the ashes.  The story says it all, before the glass slipper is placed on her foot, before the beautiful gown, and the ball, there must be a period of sitting in the ashes, of being smudged, of being humbled, and of simply waiting.  She has to “fast” before the “feast.”  That is the story of Lent.

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What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the opening words from today’s Gospel, “There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.”  I always think, “oh I know this story, Jesus changes water into wine.”  That seems to be the point of the story.  It’s true, that miracle is full of meaning and symbolism: the abundance and the quality of the wine says so much about God’s great love for us.  But there is more.  We should not overlook that there would have been no wine, if Mary had not acted.  Mary saw the problem, understood the power that Jesus had and basically said, “Just do it.”

And John says in the last sentence of the Gospel that by this sign, Jesus “revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”  Now Christ could have revealed his glory, his power anyway he wanted, he does not really need us.  But he choses to do it through people, in this instance it was Mary.

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Last Sunday’s reading and today’s gives us great images of Mary and what we need to try to imitate in her life.  Today we heard:  And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.  Let me read you the translation of that sentence from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible, But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  I want to focus on the word pondered.” That is the same word we heard this past weekend after Jesus gets lost in the Temple and Mary ponders what he said in her heart.  Pondered.  That is what Mary did when she stood under the cross and watched Jesus die, it is what we do when we are unable to offer words of consolation to someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, and it is what we should do at all those times when we just struggle to love.

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