March 5, 2003
Repent of the Sin of War,
and Believe the Gospel of Peace!
Ash Wednesday (Joel 2:12-18;
In the old days, thousands of years ago, when something really bad happened,
the chief priest of the Hebrew community would stand before the entire
religious congregation and rend his garment. He would tear his robe in
two. It was the ultimate statement of shock and regret. When Jesus was
on trial before the Sanhedrin, the chief priest stood up, accused Jesus
of blasphemy, and rended his garment, tore his robe.
Today in the first reading, the prophet Joel tells us to rend not our
garments, but our hearts, to tear our hearts in two, to break our hearts,
to say we have completely failed and start all over, to renounce sin,
wipe the slate clean and return to God with all our broken hearts, weeping,
mourning, fasting and praying. These are not happy images. We regret
what we have done and not done, and mourn those being killed anywhere
and everywhere. We recognize our complicity with the sin and violence
of the whole world.
Joel says blow the trumpet, gather the people, call the assembly, and
proclaim a fast. Last Thursday, the Pope did just that and called upon
all one billion Catholics around the world to fast for peace today, that
the United States would not bomb Iraq. The pope asks us all to pray and
fast "that the world will find effective ways short of war to secure
justice, increase security and promote genuine peace for all of God's
people." This morning he said, "Everyone has to knowingly assume their
responsibility and make a common effort to spare humanity another dramatic
conflict. By conversion of heart, penance and solidarity, we will become
true peacemakers both in our own families and in the world."
So today, the universal church invites us to repent of every sin, not
what cultures, governments or empires define as sin, since they always
try to play God and decide what is right or wrong, but what the Gospel
of Jesus defines as sin--selfishness, hatred, arrogance, pride, apathy,
greed, injustice, idolatry, violence, and war. We turn back to God and
take up the Gospel way of unconditional nonviolent love, as St. Paul
says, to "be reconciled to God." Then we can begin the works of repentance,
as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, to share what we have with
those in need, to fast and to pray in our inner room in secret to God.
So I invite you today and in the days ahead to do something new and
beautiful for God, to fast for peace, to pray for our conversion to God
and for peace in the world, to pray that all the killings around the
world will stop, that God will relent and give us a miracle of global
transformation. So I invite you to come to the Stations of the Cross
and the bible study series, to spend more time with Jesus every day in
silent prayer and Gospel study, to deepen your relationship with Jesus,
to deny yourself, take up the cross and walk with him on the road of
love, to be part of his work for peace.
As we come forward to receive the ashes, I invite you to enter this
holy season of Lent, to rend your heart, to pray for the grace of repentance
from violence and selfishness, for yourself and the whole world, and
to renew your discipleship to the nonviolent Jesus and his Gospel.
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