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More precious than silver

Friday, March 8, 2019

From Isaiah 58
Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high!

The other day I watched a quiet, smiling artist at work, seated in her armchair with a good light, crocheting a stunning afghan. Her loops were stabilized on a rounded broomstick, created years ago by her father. Royal purple and white, the afghan sat quietly in her lap as she moved the needle.

On Wednesday I walked a COLD twenty minutes to OSF Hospital to attend their noontime Lenten service. I wanted to hear Father Fredi, a Hispanic priest very busy with parishes in Tolono and Urbana, but who also hosts the daily hospital mass. His English is wonderful, although sometimes difficult to understand. I prefer straining to hear. I concentrate more. His ideas are always worth it.

Catholic homilies are short, almost never more than 10 minutes. Nothing wrong with that. If you can’t say it in 10 minutes … I need to remember that when I write! Father Fredi talked quietly and carefully. He thought about his words as he spoke them. He shared an example of the intertwined threads of almsgiving, prayer and fasting.

Suppose you fast from coffee for forty days. The money you save on coffee, you can give to the needy (he chose not to call them “poor”). As you give to them, and think about them, it’s only natural to pray for them.

His example cozied up to me, just like a well-made afghan. So simple! These three Christian responsibilities cannot exist without each other. Or they shouldn’t. Isaiah makes that clear in chapter 58.

Father Fredi went on to the daily prayers. He did not read them. Amazing. He stood behind the altar table, looked into the air and prayed in his own words for the “presidents of the world.” For our leaders and teachers. For the needy and for those who help the needy. We are all in the same boat. Forgetting that is not an option.

He sprinkled water on the ashes made from last year’s Palm Sunday fronds. We came forward and leaned toward Father Fredi as he painted our foreheads with the ash-black cross of Lent. “Remember,” he whispered as I struggled to understand, “From dust you came, and to dust you will return.”

Can I just sit here, Lord, and let you love me? The ashes on my head are surely gone by now. But I am as much dust today as I was Wednesday. All the breaths I have taken, all the beatings of my heart, and still there is this thing about dust. But I would rather be your dust, Lord, than silver or gold of my own creating. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.

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