If you woke this morning knowing it was Ash Wednesday but not sure why; if you, like me, are content with the reading on your virtue meter and easily could go through the motions of ashes and repentance this Lenten season; then pause and weep and gnash your teeth for an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas, who was gang-raped by 18 young men and boys in an abandoned trailer. Then get yourself to Mass.
The thing about reality is, you never know when it will sucker-punch you. I woke this morning to a renewed determination to read the Daily Office, or at least a bare minimum of the Office of Readings to start the day and Evening Prayer near the end. The arch-beautiful Psalm 103: “My soul, give thanks to the Lord.” Then something in Isaiah about the kind of fasting God wants from us—not just from us, but for others, a fasting combined with works of charity, of “setting free the oppressed, untying the thongs of the yoke.”
So far, so good.
Then I opened The New York Times on line and read the horrifying story that is pretty much summarized in my first paragraph. Who could need or want more detail? Well, I, for one, read the whole article with mounting horror. If that were my sister? If that were my neighbor? If one of those “young men” (boys?!) were my son?!
And of course the answer to those rhetorical questions is, she is my sister, they are my sons. Such savagery has been coming down since man began writing about it, and now apparently recording it on his iPhones, according to the Times article. We own this savagery. What happened in Cleveland, Texas, is The Holocaust in miniature.
What do we do when faced with such atrocity? What happens to our faith? I have a ready answer this morning. What we do is, we go to Mass and willingly have ashes smeared on our foreheads, because we are momentarily free of any repugnance we might ordinarily feel about asking anyone for forgiveness.
Then, for my sake, you have yourself a really good and serious Lent, as I will try to do for you and for my brothers and sister in Cleveland, Texas. Because if not, if we can’t turn toward the Lord at a moment like this, does anything make sense at all?