When the bridegroom leaves

‘The time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then they will fast’. This is a coded message we can relate to. It is the moment the scaffolding is removed and building has to stand on its own. 

It is the moment in the shipyard when the ship slides into the water for the first time. It is the moment we leave home to go to school. It is the moment we graduate and we are on our own. It is the moment both our parents die.

On 31 July 1556, the founder of the religious family I belong to, Ignatius of Loyola, died. We are told his companions were heartbroken. “Salmeron wept and Nadal, when he heard the news, was ‘stricken to the soul.’ Francis Borgia spoke of loneliness and sorrow beyond the power of words and Polanco wrote, ‘we strive as best we know how to accept the passing of our father’.”

It is painful but it is a ‘rite of passage’ and there is no escaping it.  Each year we have a time we call Lent which asks us to reflect on how we have lived this rite.  How are we doing, in making decisions for ourselves? We may live in an environment where our power of choosing is limited.  But still, we have the freedom to respond.  No one can take that away from us – even if we are in prison or confined to a hospital bed.  We always have that freedom.

What do we do when we are on our own; when there is no one watching us? The gospel for Ash Wednesday insists we act in secret – whether in fasting, prayer or helping others.  If we ‘parade’ our actions we undermine them and they have no worth.  Most animals survive by following the herd and even the early Israelites responded as a group, not as individuals. The maturity of our relationship with ourselves and with God comes when we stand on our own. If we are constantly adjusting our behaviour – as well as our clothes and make-up! – to the expectations of others we really have not yet grown up. We can recall the words of WH Auden,

Private faces in public places are wiser and nicer

than public faces in private places.

Lent is a time to look at our private face; to be responsible for our own choices. It is a time to recognise the beautiful gift we all have of making our own life. If Irenaeus is remembered for one thing it is his saying; ‘The glory of God is a person fully alive.’  We cannot be fully alive if we do not own ourselves.  Yet countless people go through life wondering, ‘what will others think’.  It is time we remembered the bridegroom is no longer here.  We are on our own.

10 March 2019                   Lent 1 C

Deuteronomy 26:4-10    2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2     Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

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