On this Sunday which is the last before the holy season of Lent, Holy Mother Church seeks to fill our minds and hearts with thoughts that will carry us through the penitential season that is about to open before us.
From the very start of the Mass the introit reminded us that God Himself is our helper, our protector, our refuge, our saviour. He it is who leads us along our way and feeds us. It does not matter how hard the path. It does not matter how windy or steep. He gives us the light to see our next step, and He gives us the nourishment and the strength to take it. In the next forty days there will be moments when we think we cannot go any further, when we do not have any more strength, when we feel lost and all our efforts seem futile. Then it is that we recall that God Himself is our rock and in Him we find the light and guidance for every step of the way.
In the epistle, St Paul, in his famous hymn to charity, tells us among other things that love bears all things and suffers all things. If we only have love in our heart, we know that we can do anything, that nothing is impossible for the one who loves truly and sincerely, for love is of God, and he who dwells in love, dwells in God and God in him.
In the Gospel our blessed Lord heals a blind man, and in so doing, He shows that He is the light of every heart. The apostles themselves were blind when they failed to see and understand the prophecy of the Passion. They would even seek to prevent it. In that they were blind, but they were not as blind as the pharisees who made themselves blind and would not accept the Lord’s teaching.
In our day too, there are many who are blind. The blindness of the eyes is the symbol of a much deeper and more tragic blindness, which is the inability to see God, His hand and work in the world, and His will, to understand His commandments. The deepest cause of such blindness is repeated sin, which is symbolised in Holy Scripture by another physical ailment, namely leprosy. Leprosy causes the rot of the flesh and leads to an awful death, and sin causes the death of the soul and leads to damnation. There has always been sin in the world, but as we look around us today, we cannot fail to be horrified by the glorification of sin.
At the moment we are in the midst of what is called the celebration of Pride. In Catholic theology, pride is one of the capital sins. By a diabolical reversal, vice has become virtue and is now a motive of pride. Unfortunately however, being a sodomite is nothing to be proud of. Being involved in any vice of any sort is nothing to be proud of. Rather, should it bring tears to the eyes and compunction to the heart.
God is ready to forgive any and all sins, but what is required is an act of humility by which we acknowledge that we have failed and need God’s mercy. This is where we see how frightening is the growing empire of Pride. Not content with living a life of vice and promoting it, it now has to become a title to greater pride. They glorify themselves in what makes their shame, as St Paul wrote to the Philippians (3:19). When a person has reached that stage, there is literally nothing we can do to help them. When an entire society has reached that level of blindness that it loves the darkness, it is not only the sign of irretrievable decadence but of imminent and total destruction. Whence the need to pray and offer penance in order to atone for so much evil which afflicts the Heart of our Lord.
This coming Tuesday is called Shrove Tuesday because the old English word shrive means to confess one’s sins, and so it was a day on which to go to confession before the great Lenten fast. In French however the same day is known as Mardi Gras (literally, “Fat Tuesday”) as a day of feasting before the fast. The word carnival, by the way, has a similar origin, from the Latin Carnem vale – which means “farewell to flesh meat”, which traditionally was banned during Lent. It’s interesting to note the very different names, the one (shrove Tuesday) stressing a final spiritual preparation to be ready for Lent, the others (Mardi Gras or carnival) a last round of rejoicing, almost as if to say: Oh how sad it is that we must now fast.
While the depraved retain only the feasting and half-hearted worldly Catholics regret the fasting, true Catholics – and among those we hope to be – rejoice that the season of penance has arrived, for it is a time to be purified of our sins and renewed in the desire to serve the Lord better, for this brings true, lasting, spiritual joy.
Pius custom has reserved for this period before Lent meditation on particular aspects of the Passion of Our Lord. One of these is devotion to the Holy Face, which is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday, as a day to offer expiation to Our Lord, who seems to hide His face and close His eyes on sinners.
As we contemplate His sacred traits and are drawn deeper into the mystery of His love for us, let us offer ourselves to Him with great generosity, praying for all the souls who have gone astray, who are immersed in the infinite ocean of sadness, which is all too obvious on their faces, in their dress (or lack thereof), in the disfiguring of their bodies through tattoos and multiple piercings. As vice becomes more prominent, it manifests itself with growing loathsomeness. But such spectacles should inspire us more with compassion than with anger, more with love than with hate. Perhaps if we ourselves have a demeanour that betrays our deep joy in the Lord, if we know how to show true love, perhaps we will have the added joy of seeing some of these poor sinners return to the flock before it is too late.
Tomorrow Holy Church honours two shepherd saints, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, both of whom were deeply moved by Our Lady’s revelations at Fatima, in particular with the thought that if they did not repent, they would go to Hell. This true Christian compassion for sinners moved them to practice may penances for souls. As we set out on our Lenten journey, may the courageous example of these two child saints inspire us with much generosity and magnanimity. Little sacrifices offered with great love can win many souls to God. Let us not doubt it for a minute.