I love the Church, especially in Lent


19 Feb 2015

I must be mad because I love the Church. But if Nietzsche is right, while there is always some madness in love, there is always some reason in madness. I was put in touch with this madness two years ago when I went for a blood test. The nurse asked what I did, and I said I was a student.

‘Studying what?’ she asked. What she heard me say was ‘geology and philosophy’, and she said, ‘That’s an interesting combination.’

I clarified that it was ‘theology and philosophy’ and, seeing that she was still puzzled, I added that I was studying for the priesthood. Thank God, she had already drawn my blood because she looked up at me in shock! She said, ‘You must be brave.’

It was my turn to be shocked. I presume she said this because of the scandals in the Church today. But I myself don’t think it is at all brave. I believe that it is love that brought me here and love that keeps me going. It is love of the Church, in all its brokenness – the brokenness that is part of the mystery of myself, the brokenness that is part of the mystery of all of us, the brokenness that we all share – all this forms the Church that I love.

This is why I am a Jesuit. It’s mad, yes – but at the same it is normal. Ash Wednesday’s second reading from Paul to the Corinthians invites us to be true ambassadors of Christ and the appeal is to be reconciled back to God. We are all sinners, and the open invitation to be reconciled back to God has no use by date. This is by virtue of Christ death and resurrection. Give it all back to God, don’t let it be a label that define who you are, a label that excludes and not includes. If you have stuffed up, acknowledge it, own it, shake it off through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and move on, and if it is hard, talk to someone: that is why you have chaplains. You might disagree with me but in some ways I feel Taylor Swift got it right when she sang:
But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music
In my mind
Saying, “It’s gonna be alright.”

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

Taggers look out for a prominent surface that they can make as their billboard. I am not talking about street art, I am talking about tagging. The intention of the tagger is to tell the world, “I tag, therefore I exist” but the street artists intention is to ask “Hey! Have you thought about this?”

Last week, we had ashes traced on our foreheads with one of the following phrases: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel” or “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.”

May these ashes that we see traced on our forehead remind us of who we are, where we come from and ultimately what happens to our mortal body.

Guys, let the empty cross remind us too, that Lent is not a time to pay for our sins committed over the year, by giving up meat, chocolate, coffee, facebook, durrie(cigarette) or even porn. The empty cross is the payment. Jesus has paid for it already. Thank you, come again (mimicking Apoo from The Simpsons).

Let us use what we are giving up, that possession or addiction as a reminder of how insignificant the item is, that all that we have and call our own, all our possessions, will one day become ashes again. The only constant is God. Please allow the ashes on your forehead to be more than an “ashtag”.

After receiving the ashes, together as one church with the ashes on our foreheads we recall and re-live the Last Supper where Jesus gives himself to us in Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine, broken and shared. Broken just like leaves burned to ashes, broken just like us fragile beings, so that we can live in hope, because Jesus fully human, made from ash humbled himself as a ransom for all of us.

This lent, let us allow ourselves to ask ourselves “Hey, Have you thought of that?” This is only possible if we stop. We are like hamsters running around in the hamster ball not recognising the food that is left in the ball. There is lots of food around us, let us stop and chew on it and appreciate what does Jesus’ death and resurrection mean for us.
I know that it is quite mad- but there’s always some reason in madness.

Ramesh Richards is a Jesuit working at St Aloysius College in Sydney and at the Cardoner Project with Young Adults
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