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Ash Wednesday Reflection from the Prioress
Ash Wednesday 2016
Sister Nancy Miller, OSB, Prioress
Just two months ago we began the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In his letter announcing the Jubilee year of Mercy, Pope Francis said, “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become visible in Jesus of Nazareth.” He goes on to say that Mercy is the bridge that connects God and us, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. Pope Francis also asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s Mercy.”
A major theme of the Rule of Benedict and of our annual celebration of Lent is our plea for God's mercy. The Rule is filled with images and invitations for us to experience a merciful God with references to both the old and new testaments. "See how the Lord in His love shows us the way to life." "Never lose hope in God's mercy." One of the disciplines in Lent might be for us to read the Rule with the lens of the theme of mercy and note the multiple references to God’s mercy. It is certainly everywhere throughout Chapter 4 where we find many of the tools for good works inviting us to be merciful to each other.
As we began our prayer this evening we listened to Chapter 49 of the Rule where we heard that Lent is a time for us to wash away the negligences of other times. And what is one of the greatest challenges? Preferring nothing whatever to Christ...nothing. We should prefer nothing to Christ because Christ preferred nothing to us. God’s faithfulness to us is the model for Benedictine stability. The one thing we can hold on to is the certainty of God. Our stability is a response to that promise which reassures us that he is faithful and steadfast and that we should never lose hope in God’s mercy.
We have the opportunity to have Christ be the center of our lives if we spend time in lectio divina, silence, and prayer. We are Christ centered when we are deliberately mindful in all that we do. It is when we do not have the mind of Christ that we are stuck with endless distractions. How often are we physically present to an event but our minds are elsewhere? Have you ever been in a conversation but not really in the conversation? Is your mind preoccupied with other thoughts? Our minds are not where they should be all the time. We are invited in this Lenten season to address our restlessness, our boredom, our impatience, our inattention and to instead reach out to others in the now, in the moments we have with our sisters, co-workers, volunteers, employees, family, friends and now more than ever with God who loves us so much.
In her book, Making All Things New, Sister Ileo Delia, a young scholarly theologian, writes that "putting on the mind of Christ is neuro-focusing on gospel values, such as love, peace, mercy, and compassion, not as abstract ideals but as relational values. Life is about relationships; justice is about relationships; peace is about relationships; love is about relationships.”
Delia reminds us that "the present is eternity in the now. We are to embrace the moment by emptying ourselves into it and surrendering to life's energy flow. Life unfolds in the now, in the field of our choices. Every choice in the present creates the future. To put on the mind of Christ is to know the power within us to create the future, the power to evolve into a new unity, a new oneness in love through a unified, Christic consciousness."
Right now as a community we have a lot going on. We are in the midst direction setting and study for our upcoming discernment and election of Prioress, long-range planning which is a continual process, and we are devoting significant time to work with communicating with one another more effectively. And all of that on top of what we typically do! When we put all of that into the context of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, it calls us to be present, to be mindful of what is going on within us as well as what is going on around us. When we are mindful, we are more ready to respond to the needs of community life and the needs of those in society. God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. May we observe, listen, pray and then respond with mercy, a mercy similar to the mercy that God’s shows us each and every day.
So let us prefer nothing whatever to Christ because He preferred nothing whatever to us. What a wonderful Lenten journey, what a bright future we will have if we make a concerted effort to live these words.
This evening I have for each of you a Jubilee of Mercy medal. It is inscribed with “Merciful Like the Father.” It is attached to a prayer card and I’d like to close by praying a part of that prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, You are the visible face of the invisible Father, of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and Mercy. Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing, so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of Grace from the Lord. Amen.