Two men went to pray on Ash Wednesday. The one was holy with goodness to spare, so that he could pray in reparation for those who were sinners. “I thank you, Lord, for my virtuous life. I pray twice in the week, pay my mite, have sympathy for all your suffering people. I wish I could do more. You already know I’m not grasping or adulterous – I must’ve told you.”
The other knelt with bowed head, not daring to look into God’s eyes. “Forgive me, Lord, I am a killer-soldier under orders.” And the one went home, bought some cakes for tea, and the other went to his trench and gun.
The President looked in the mirror and saw a great brown bear and smiled at his self-image. The Patriarch has praised him as a fine Christian man and asked prayers for him, just as the Cardinal Archbishop of Berlin asked prayers for Adolf Hitler in 1945 – though he hadn’t asked prayers for six million Jews or thousands of faithful Catholic priests at Dachau Concentration Camp, and even Westminster blessed the British Catholic Prime Minister, though it had little time for sexually abused children nor the many who were refused Church blessing on their healing second marriages. Religions know how to butter their bread, Faith knows God.
With a sigh the religious superior signed a cheque for the Punch and Judy home where some of the paedophile priests were hidden and receiving treatment, but had no cheque for the Salvation Army hostel down the road where some of the paedophile-broken victims had taken refuge from the streets. “We’re not made of money, you know,” he always said in answer to his conscience when people didn’t bother to ask any more.
The people of St Phoenix, embers blazing, argued the times of mass in the new parish formed from the former parishes. Christian tribes fought each other, or with each other against the Muslims in the Balkans where Our Lady came every day to speak to wealthy visionaries and marvel how a place of fraud had become a beautiful place of prayer created by the goodness of the people who came there, beyond all clever marketing.
Ash Wednesday it was. A day for prayer and new beginnings. Always new beginnings, and the older you become the more new beginnings you see and the more fading into old ways – to be ditched for yet more new beginnings and asking where the young people are, just as parents and grandparents had moaned in previous years. The wisdom of the elderly was ignored in favour of the immature, instead of asking the immature to listen to wisdom because enthusiasm, without knowledge or understanding (which need time) die with the years and dynamic young priests become bachelors and they don’t look exciting any more unless they are ambitious.
We could celebrate Ash Wednesday every day, and Easter and Christmas. “One day is as a thousand years,” said St Peter, and he’d learned a thing or two from Jesus, especially about giving the right answers.
The women heard the cry. The men had run away. The women heard the cry “Father, forgive them, they know what they are doing. I can’t forgive them. You must. I can’t,” and he died. The women told the men what Jesus had said but the men took over, now that they had recovered from being traitors and moral cowards, and began to rule. But not hearts. The women’s suffering love rules the hearts, the men organise the religion.
Jesus had said “When the Son of man returns to earth, will he find any faith?” “Yes, Lord, always. The women, the abused and used, the ignored and excluded, those who weep – they are still here. They are the Church you came to found and you will find them. The men haven’t found them, yet. Do you think you can help when you come? They’ve just got religion.”
We ask God’s blessing, heart and mind,
(27th February 2022)