I didn't plant this little long-needled pine tree; it seeded itself in a perfect spot alongside where the cars part at the retreat house. It's about eight or nine years old now. And it snowed Tuesday night going into Ash Wednesday morning, delightful in white!
Though your sins be like scarlet I will make them white as snow. Though they be red as crimson, I will make them white as wool.
Scarlet and crimson: the colors of things flaming and molten, the color of a shamed face, of blood. God speaks through the prophet, using the most serious color to talk about the most serious sin. But what sin is that?
Most of us grew up getting ready for First Confession just before First Communion, at about age seven. And so we were given a seven year old Examination of Conscience. I have no recollelction of ever having been given an adult Examination of Conscience - except through so many sermons about sex sins.
I'd venture that most Catholics can say next to nothing about the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church and what sin might be discovered there. National sin. Corporate sin. Ecclesial sin. For adults, it's not about confessing "I missed Mass one Sunday while my family was on vacation and I forgot my prayers, and I had a lusty thought about the waitress in IHOP." Jesus didn't endure and suffer Good Friday for that!
- Jesus died for the sins of the world's wars no matter how we justify our bombs.
- Jesus died for the societal sins against children as we fail them.
- Jesus died for the sins of our idolatrous sports obsession. $$$
- Jesus died for the sins of political corruption.
- Jesus died for the sins of nationalism.
- Jesus died for the sins of tolerating unspeakable poverty - whole cities existing on mountains of garbage.
- Jesus died for the sins of cultural rancor, contention and hatred.
- Jesus died for all the lies. One woman told me that in her country when someone is talking, you automatically expect you are being lied to.
- Jesus died for the plunder-rape of our planet - the exploitation and waste.
- Jesus died for the idolatrous love of and protection of guns - the new gods of metal. (Leviticus 19:4)
- Jesus died for the new terrorism - but also for everything that has set it in motion.
- Jesus died for the sin of rapid extinctions: the animals and plants which were give to us as gifts to be treasured.
- Jesus died for the sins of religion where it aligns with power.
- Jesus died for the sins of companies and the thingdom come stores. One British commentator said of his own country: "Britain exists now to go shopping."
- Jesus died for the sins of power and possession: while some have seemingly everything, and remain dissatisfied, so many more are starved, sick and naked.
God makes these molten, bloody sins white, like the snow on the little tree. This doesn't mean God is saying: "There, there, that's not so bad, everything's all right," because everything's not all right. But rather, "None of this causes me to love you less. I run to you in love as a mother runs to her bruised and anguished toddler who has just fallen flat on her/his face."
An Irish woman confessed to the priest her repentant-sorrow at being part of a nation that aborts. I've confessed that my tax dollar is used for drones and bombs that have killed children sitting at their school desks. The priest tried to excuse me, "Oh your tax dollar is so small compared to the total expenditures of a military budget." Why are we always looking for wiggle room?
And if I can't find my way to the confessional with any of this - either because I don't think I should have to own any part of this scarlet stuff or because I'm afraid the priest won't get it - then at least hold it in your heart - the sickening sadness of it - as Mass begins and there's five seconds before the penitential rite, when so many of us zone out and can't think of a thing. "Don't bother to pray," Archbishop Anthony Bloom writes, "until you feel something."
Here's a link to Pope John XXIII's 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). It is an excellent read for Lent: to be studied, considered and pondered. Let's skip the TV/Internet news and read this instead. Nothing will have changed when we return to it weeks from now. Maybe print the encyclical (about 40 pages) and high-lite what gets your attention. You'll feel a bright-white transformation come Easter and a tremendous sense of having stepped into the depths of an adult Christianity. And Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Put out into the deep and you will make a catch..." Luke 5:4