Extracted from Gloria Hutchinson's Six Ways to Pray From Six Great Saints:
"[A preacher] must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold." -- St Francis of Assisi
ONCE, WHEN THE POOR LADIES OF SAN DAMIANO (Poor Clares) insisted on hearing a sermon from their beloved founder, he stood in front of them, raised his eyes in prayer and then asked that a bucket of ashes be brought to him. He circled himself with ashes and showered the remainder over his head.
In silence, he remained standing before the shocked sisters. Finally, he recited Psalm 51 ("Have mercy on me, O God...") and left without further comment.
TODAY'S ASH WEDNESDAY -- the day Lent begins, where Catholics worldwide are called to observe penance for forty days before Good Friday, the day Jesus died on a cross. On this day, the faithful attend masses at church to have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross. According to James Akin, this symbolizes that each person belongs to Jesus Christ.
While attending mass, my thoughts kept returning to a rather curious discussion that i had yesterday with a Catholic friend who has been attending a Protestant church for about six years. It was cordial at first. However, when asked whether she would like to attend an Ash Wednesday mass with me, she got rather upset and started recounting the 'sins of the Church', quite similiar to those accusations often made by many Protestants: idol worshipping, corrupt popes, selling of indulgences, keeping the bible away from the faithful (!) ...
i couldn't help answering, "When we see someone kissing an icon or statue, and praying before them, are they definitely idolizing the same icon or statue? Can we look into someone's heart like God does? Who are we to judge?"
"Even if some of these accusations are true, for all the terrible things that have happened, much more good have also been done. The church is made up of individuals. The Church had and still have many saints who have done lots of good."
"Furthermore, things are often not what they seem, for example, the 'Greedy' monk story.... Otherwise, why would eminent Oxford scholars such as John Henry Newman and more recently, an ex-Protestant seminary professor and minister such as Scott Hahn convert to Catholicism?"
She stopped fuming only when i finally asked, "Aren't we all sinners? As Christians, aren't we all called to forgive one another? In accusing one another, aren't we all falling into the trap of the Father of Lies who would have applauded as he watches us bicker, quarrel and refuse to forgive one another in the family, in the community and among the churches?"
Now looking back, i wonder: Many of these horrible things happened so long ago, at least five hundred years ago? By some count, Pope John Paul II had already apologized for specific sins linked to the Church on more than 100 occasions during his 21-year pontificate, including lengthy discussions of the Holocaust and the Inquisition. Isn't it time to forgive? Why can't the Protestant churches forgive the past sins of the Catholic church, just as we are called to forgive one another in a family and in a community? Furthermore, as prophesied in Revelation 2-3, all churches are guilty of some sins. We are all sinners. What right does the 'pot' have to call the 'kettle' black?
Still, having said all that, a new meaning had been added to Ash Wednesday this morning. As Fr. J pointed out, we sometimes really need to make a collective act of contrition to atone for the sins of the community (Joel 2:1-2, 12-17).
Have mercy on us, O God...
( See also Why Do Catholics... )