Ash Wednesday and a Lent for Priests Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 -- 1:00 AM

This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

It was wonderful to witness and to hear of the strong turn-out of people at our Ash Wednesday Masses around the diocese. Such a turn-out is a hopeful sign that our people genuinely want to pursue the journey of holiness and conversion this Lent.

I share with you today three points that I made during my Mass on Ash Wednesday. The first point is regarding this, our Year for Priests, within the Church. I do think about the Year for Priests a lot, but I’m not sure that we’ve done everything that we can to help you think about it. I hope that you do think about it, though. My point is this: if it is the “Year for Priests,” and this “year” includes Lent, then this Lent is for priests.

The first two readings from the Ash Wednesday Mass helped us to reflect on the priesthood. In the first reading we heard about the priests praying for the people. The priests weep and they pray, “Spare oh Lord, spare your people.” And in the second reading we heard (addressed to all of us and particularly to priests), “be ambassadors for Christ,” and the message that we have to offer is, “be reconciled to God.”

The first reading reminds us, as it says so beautifully in the letter to Hebrews, that the priest is appointed to represent people in all things that pertain to their relationship to God. That is a very heavy responsibility — to represent people in all things that pertain to their relationship to God, which is the most important relationship in their whole life. The priest, with God’s grace, carries that burden. And when St. Paul says, be ambassadors, and this is your message, “be reconciled,” we see a strong reference there to the priest as the minister of the Sacrament of Penance, the priest in the Confessional.

In some cases there are priests who spend the whole day on Ash Wednesday in the Confessional, to say to the people, “you come when you want, I’m going to be here that you might be reconciled.” That is a beautiful invitation and it also cancels out excuses! It hurts that we don’t have enough priests to do that in all parishes.

Make it a Lent for priests

During this Year for Priests, the priests really need your prayers and your loving support. This is a Lent for Priests. Please offer up at least some of your Lenten penance, some of your Lenten sacrifice for priests, that they might have energy, that they might have joy, that they might be filled with the Holy Spirit, that they may not run out of energy and start looking forward to retirement. Pray and sacrifice for priests in some very concrete ways.

Choose also some concrete ways to show your priests that you love them. Maybe write them a letter and tell them that you are praying for them and what sacrifices you are making for them. Do something. Due to added responsibilities, it can be more complicated for priests on Fridays to get dinner — unless maybe they have a fish fry. If your priest enjoys fish, maybe offer to bring him a dinner on Friday. Be imaginative, but do something to show your love, your respect, your support, and your prayers for your priest. Make it a Lent for Priests.

Unto dust you shall return

The last point is simply this, on Ash Wednesday we hear, “remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” Our Holy Father said, on the morning of Ash Wednesday, that those ashes to which we return are very precious to Almighty God. Those ashes belong to Him — He created us from the dust and we return to the ashes.

So, we are completely the property of God and so therefore are our ashes. They are precious before God. And so, as we think about death on Ash Wednesday, it’s good to think about matters like cremation.

The Church prefers that we bury the body, for the body is God’s property and when we bury it, it is right in place to get up when the Lord raises us from the dead. The best sign of our hope in the resurrection of the body is to bury the body as it is. But, although it is not preferred, the Church permits cremation.

However, if someone is cremated, those cremains need to be buried in the ground or entombed. I’ve seen cremains on the fireplace and I’ve been told that cremains are, “upstairs in a closet.” We don’t really have the right to treat God’s property that way. We should do with God’s property what He expects us to do; and if there is cremation we should make sure that those cremains are reverently buried or entombed.

The preference is, again, that the whole body would be buried or entombed so that it is ready for God to use in raising us up. God has further use of those ashes that lay in death. He has further use of those cremains — He’s not finished with them yet.

He wants to constitute a glorified body from them for each of us. So, when we face up to death and when we think about matters like cremation, we think about a truth which is very important for us to know in this life — that we are God’s property. Our body is God’s property, not our own. In death our remains belong to the Lord and we should treat them in every way so as to express that Truth.

God bless you all with a holy, joyful Lenten conversion, with love in heart and mind for your priests. Thank you for reading this. Praised be Jesus Christ!