Fr. Luke Uebler Ash Wednesday Homily
“Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: in an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Words from our 2nd reading today from the 5th chapter of St. Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
As I’m sure you know, around this time every year something important happens. Shaking off the doldrums of winter, individuals report to the place they are associated with so as to begin a new season. Having done some reflecting on where they are at – both at a personal and collective level – participants come together with their peers to get direction and coaching from their leaders, and then they begin a set of disciplines and practices for a little while to improve and hone their skills. Some excel in what they set out to achieve, while others end up waiting until the following year for their next opportunity to try it all over again. I’m sure you guessed it, I’m talking of course about Spring Training for Major League Baseball. I’m not sure which team you follow, but they’re at it again. Indeed, the general reporting date is in fact today. Looking forward to the new season that is at hand, players assemble with their teammates and begin batting practice and strategizing with their coaches, hoping that they’ll do enough to make the roster out of camp and have a successful career with their teammates going forward. Year to year, there’s always some core players, and there’s also some new faces, but everyone who comes to spring training for one reason or another is there to become a part of something bigger than themselves.
I suppose you can see then the parallel here with Lent, which we begin today. The literal meaning of the word, Lent, is in fact “Spring.” It is springtime in the Church: a time to start fresh, and shake off the rust, and get ready for the days ahead. Welcome to spring training. Thank you for reporting to camp today. Baseball players and other athletes recognize that they have to work endlessly on their skills or they will be surpassed by their competitors. Spring training is a good chance to work on those things that are necessary for their future success. So too it is with us in the Church. Us human beings are always in need of renewal. We also need to start fresh, especially after this past year. We can’t live with the failures of last season on our mind nor can we afford to think that any of our past successes are enough to hold us over going forward. Are we where we want to be as a follower of Christ, as a people of God, as a Church? It’s the coach’s job to say, no, we are not. If we want to compete well in the life of faith and hold our own in the spiritual life, then we’ve got work to do. There are new challenges ahead of us, there is more to be gained, there is a prize yet to be won. St. Paul says, “we appeal to you: work together, so as not to receive the grace of God in vain. Now is a very acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” Ash Wednesday signals to us that these 40 days of Spring Training has begun in the Church.
As we heard in our Gospel, our annual regimen at camp includes fasting. The practice of fasting is akin to conditioning and the development of a player’s potential. What are those things we have to work on to stay in good spiritual shape? Perhaps, we are giving up chocolate or social media or alcohol because we know our excessive indulgence of these things gets in the way of becoming the best version of ourselves. But fasting can also include exercising a particular virtue, like practicing how we use our words, or working on our attitudes towards someone or something. You’re a good player, you are worthy of love. So, take care of yourself. Have a good diet of morality. Hit the spiritual weight room and lift the burdens from your soul through the sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance. Do something to make your faith stronger. Do some fasting during this training camp.
Our regimen for Spring Training also includes almsgiving. When we give alms, we are learning to work together as a team. A team might be full of talented individuals, but if everyone is looking out only for their own personal stats and cannot be there for each other, the team will fall short of its collective undertaking. It’s amazing how much society has progressed and what things are available to us in the developed world. Yet, how many of us store up personal success and influence, while our neighbors struggle? True, no one is without their own burdens or hardships – but what then can we do to help each other through such struggles. We’re all in this life together. There are many ways to help each other besides charitable donations. Perhaps, undertaking some kind of community service or joining a ministry would be appropriate. Almsgiving is what we can do to help the human race be there for each other and work together as a team. Please don’t do your regimen of fasting this Lent and neglect your teammates during spring training.
Lastly, at this camp, we need to practice our prayer life. Prayer is how we stay connected with each other and with God. Though we may be in shape and our teamwork ethic might be impeccable, the season is long, filled with many ups and downs. We need to be on the same page and communicate with each other to strategize and adjust to a given situation. If we cannot, we will be unable to respond to the curve balls that are thrown at us in life. Let’s find ways to keep that communication with God ongoing and open. We need to pray.
Remember why we are doing these things: to compete well in the life of faith. These actions of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not for show, but for our conversion, to make us better. We’ve all got some work to do, and indeed Lent is a serious season, but it is not a sad one. Jesus says, don’t look gloomy like the hypocrites. Imagine if the players showed up to training camp gloomy about their chances. It would be a long year. No, it’s an exciting time, where we look forward to the season ahead and the victory of Easter. We’re not there yet, but we start today. Today we begin training camp; today we begin our spring training as a Church. So, don your ashes, put on your team colors, and get to work.