28 Feb 2017
It never fails that, at Christmas and Easter, the churches are packed. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and, again, we would expect the churches to be rather full. And that’s fine; it’s good to see that many people remember what the heart of these seasons are, and they come to church to celebrate that.
However, the challenge for those who go to church all the time is to not think they’re better just because they go to church all the time. We hear a lot in our readings today about sacrifice and offerings, following the law of God. We Catholics even carry those sentiments on through our centuries of ritualistic tradition. And they’re really rather beautiful traditions and rituals.
The challenge, however, is to keep the ritual real and to offer a sacrifice acceptable to the Lord. Sirach describes some of how that might look. He says, “To refrain from evil pleases the Lord, and to avoid injustice is an atonement.” Well, those are sacrifices: to refrain from evil and to avoid injustice—except those sacrifices are made within the heart.
Sirach also talks about having a generous spirit and a cheerful disposition in our giving. Again, those are sacrifices made within the heart. They aren’t necessarily things we see with our eyes in the course of our rituals. But God sees them. God sees our rituals; but he also sees into the heart and he knows what’s there. He knows if we give the Sign of Peace, but yet in our heart we would wish ill on others. He knows if we receive the Eucharist, but yet in our words and actions we live contrary to what the Eucharist stands for.
It’s a very great privilege to be called to worship God. But the privilege is never a reason to boast. For at the moment we boast in ourselves and our fidelity to our rituals and traditions, we empty our rituals and traditions of their meaning, and we become self-righteous. And that’s the last thing we want to do, or to be.
Again, it’s a very great privilege to be called to worship God. May we never lose sight of that; may we enjoy our life in God and a pure gift from God. And when Easter and Christmas and Ash Wednesday come around, and the churches get filled, may our prayer be simply a prayer of thanks that God has called all these brothers and sisters to his altar. A sacrifice of praise; a sacrifice of thanks from the heart. That is a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord.