Each year, on the evening before Ash Wednesday, administrators and staff of the Benedictine Health System put on a splendid Mardi Gras celebration for the Sisters. For “Fat Tuesday” we wear funny hats and masks, and dine on pizza in all its variety, salad, ice cream, soft drinks, and beer. This year, local musician Kevin Buck led us in a sing-along of music from over the decades, show tunes, and favorite hymns. It brought some of us back to our youth; the years fell away and we were 20 or 30 or 40 again.
Mardi Gras is traditionally the last indulgence in rich foods before the rigorous Lenten fast. Ours has become a celebration of community, where women of diverse backgrounds and ages come together to share smiles and laughter.
This morning we woke to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. At Morning Prayer, in place of the banished “Alleluia,” we intoned “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.”
Sister Theresa Spinler prepared the Chapel the day before, removing all flowers and green plants. In the Gathering Space she placed a plain wooden cross in a small desert: stones and a dead tree that speak of the spiritual poverty of sin, but also baskets that recall the manna that sustained the Israelites for forty years of wanderings, and Jesus’ feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread, when there were baskets full of fragments. God is infinitely merciful and cares for us even when we choose sin and turn our faces away from our loving Father.
Up front in the chapel, again in the middle of stones and baskets, is a woodcut by +Sister Mary Charles McGough of The Return of the Prodigal Son. It reminds us that, when we turn from sin to ask God’s forgiveness, God comes running to meet us and, like the loving father in the parable, embraces us with undiminished love and, yes, with joy. In the Book of Tobit we read, “If you turn back to God with all your heart, God will turn to you with a face no longer hidden.” (Tobit 13:6)
Saint John Henry Newman said, “With Christians, a poetical view of things is a duty. We are bid to color all things with hues of faith, to see a divine meaning in every event.” To seek God’s presence in everything we see and hear and do is to live in that liminal space where the human and divine meet.
For the next six weeks and until we die, let us live to the fullest. Let us see the abundance of God everywhere. Let us give thanks for daily light, for the sun that this morning is sending melting snow cascading down rivers and off our eaves. Let our hearts be filled with joy by a smile from a stranger, by mud at our feet, by the unasked-for love we give each other. With God’s grace let us break down the barriers that separate us, for we are all part of the family of God.
Make this Lent a time of transformation, when we finally understand that all of creation bears the imprint of God and is therefore a sacrament. Let us kneel in awe and wonder before God, whose image shines out of us all.