Lenten Reflections: Ash Wednesday
March 1, 2017
by Professor Hosffman Ospino Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Education School of Theology and Ministry
Hosffman Ospino holds an MA in theology with concentration in Church History and a PhD in Theology and Education from Boston College. Dr. Ospino's research concentrates on the dialogue between theology and culture and the impact of this interchange upon Catholic theological education, catechesis, and ministry.
For your reference - Readings for Ash Wednesday
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Final Judgement. Are You Ready?
How do you imagine the final judgement? Almost every culture and religious tradition has an idea of what a final judgement may be, usually at the end of life or at the end of history. Christians are not the exception! To think about a final judgement is to realize that our lives are finite, that one day our existence as human beings walking on earth will cease, that as much as we hold on to the things and the people that give us certainty now, one day we will have to just let go. The idea of a final judgment also evokes the instinct that we must be accountable for our decisions, now and at the end of our lives. Accountable to whom? To ourselves (in the sanctuary of our conscience), others, the created order, and ultimately to God.
I am fascinated about how U.S. popular culture tends to portray "the end," including the idea of a final judgement. Books and movies are two ordinary vehicles to do this. The common denominator tends to be a catastrophic scenario, something that ends with destruction, and the surrendering to forces that we cannot control: a cosmic event, an alien invasion, a celestial trial with a judge, lawyers, and a jury, etc. Such scenarios serve as an opportunity to assess one’s life. The characters in these plots suddenly realize how important relationships are. They discover that their scale of values is likely upside down and decide to adjust their lives and focus on what is important, even if it is only for the last moments. In the midst of this self-examination, aware that the end is near, hope springs with unparalleled force. People ask with renewed awareness: what if we can change the course of reality? Then heroes arise, people propose solutions to the threats they face, and very often the story ends with some form of victory that reveals a fresher way of being human.
We begin the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. During Lent we walk with millions of Catholics and other Christians throughout the world intentionally reflecting about who we are as human beings called to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. The readings for the liturgy during this season are an invitation to walk with Jesus meditating upon the mystery of his death and resurrection. This is a unique opportunity for Christians to reflect for forty days about the end as well as the final judgement. Just a few months ago, we had a chance to do this during the season of Advent. Now we do it looking forward to Easter.
To make sure that our reflection this Lenten season is fruitful and truly inspiring, it is imperative that, as Christians, we ponder about the final judgement in close dialogue with the Scriptures, rather than with the scripts and images that prevail in popular culture. Consequently, our starting point is the conviction that the final judgement is not about catastrophe or destruction, which in turn evoke fear and despair, but about love. Yes, the final judgement is an encounter with a loving and merciful God who asks us today, and will ask at the end of our lives, how well we did that for which we were created: love.
As we reflect about love, we assess our entire lives and our relationships, yet we do it with Jesus Christ as the ultimate reference point. Our reflection on how we love as Christians compels us to examine our commitments and the values that guide our existence. The heroes in the Christian story are not necessarily those that change the course of history, which will inevitably end at some point, a history that has an entire new meaning because of Jesus Christ, but those who live as his disciples witnessing God's love here and now. Lent is a special time of the year to conduct a serious assessment of how we are living our Christian vocation to love.
I invite you to read attentively the following passage from the Gospel of Matthew. The text will serve as our roadmap for the rest of the reflections during this season of Lent as we journey together toward Easter:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:31-46).
As we enter the season of Lent, it is likely that many of us are preparing to "give up" something as a sacrifice. This time I want to invite you to "take up" something instead. That something will be spelled out in the upcoming reflections. The above passage, however, gives you a clue of what that is.
For reflection and discussion:
1. What comes to your mind when you hear about the "final judgement?" What feelings and reactions does this concept prompt?
2. Are you ready to meet God and talk about how well you have lived your vocation to love others with the love of Christ?
3. Can you spare 15 minutes of your busy life at some point during the week to pray and meditate during this season of Lent? If so, name that time, reserve it, and treat it as sacred. Return to this reflection during that time.
Please submit a comment or response to this week's Reflection below. We will post as many possible.