Fr. Isaac Slater, OCSO
Ash Wednesday 2016
Monks are called to be ‘ambassadors of divine mercy imploring the world to be reconciled to God.’ Each night we sing, “Oh men, how long will your hearts be closed, will you love what is futile and seek what is false?”
The monk is first of all a mourner, one who laments his sins, the sins of the church and the sins of the world; he weeps between the porch and the altar, “Spare, O Lord, your people!”
He rends his heart and not only his garments, sharing in the unique mission of Jesus who, “…in the days of his flesh offered loud cries and supplications,” in Jesus who ‘became sin’ to set us free, he brings the sins of the world before the Father in the secret of his heart.
Contemplative monks, in Merton’s famous image, are like trees that purify the air, sucking in all the carbon dioxide and turning it into fresh, breathable oxygen.
Jesus does not criticize the Pharisees because their worship is public but because it is ostentatious, and done merely to gain prestige and admiration. Their acts of fasting, prayer and alms-giving are self-display—they foreground the self…
But these practices, in their inner meaning, are works of love, and so characterized by self-forgetfulness: “the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing.”
These works of love open the door to the inner room—the old self is left outside and we enter into the reward of intimate communion with the Father.
Here we receive the singular encouragement and validation only the Father can bestow… so that we no longer need to seek it from others.
This Lent is the acceptable time to return to the Lord with our whole heart, to return to the Lord who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and rich in kindness.
It is a time for us to return to the inner room of the heart from which we continually drift away, to leave our selves outside—and shut the door.