When was the last time you were let down by a person you trusted?
When we’ve been let down, it hurts.
When trust is breached, we notice.
For Ash Wednesday, in this Year of Faith, let us ask ourselves a challenging question: are we trustworthy people? Do we keep faith with others? Can others have faith in us?
We are ambassadors for Christ; God’s goodness lives in us. Part of God’s goodness is that we can always place our trust in Him; therefore, as people called to make God’s love present in this world, we also should be trustworthy. We are not to draw attention to the fact that we are praying, fasting, or giving alms – but as Christians we most certainly should be seen to be trustworthy people, making God’s love present in human society.
So let us ask ourselves: What kind of promises have I made to others? How well have I kept them? Have I betrayed confidences? Have I failed to do what I said I would?
Sometimes, of course, we find that we are no longer able to keep a promise we have made. This week we are still taking in the remarkable news that Pope Benedict XVI believes he can no longer fulfil the duties which the successor of Peter must deal with in the 21st century – and His Holiness has decided that the honourable thing in this circumstance is to step aside because he can no longer faithfully carry out all that is required of him.
Pope Benedict, of course, is not stepping aside from the committment he has made to serve as a priest and bishop. He remains a passionate servant of the church, and feels he can serve the church best by stepping aside from its most demanding role. The way we serve may change, but our committment to serve is for a lifetime.
As members of Christ’s Church, there are three special life-long promises that many of us here, today, may have made.
If you are married, you will have made a solemn vow to your spouse, to God, and to the whole Christian community, that you will love your husband or wife – that you will put their needs and well-being ahead of your own, in all circumstances. This requires a renewed decision each day to love your partner, and to communicate with them. Sometimes this benefits from a more focussed time together – whether that’s a Valentine’s supper, monthly sofa time for a family-needs discussion, or going on a retreat designed at helping couples deepen their communication with each other. So, if you are married, have you faithfully kept your commitment to love your spouse?
If you have accepted the challenge of becoming a godparent to a baby being baptised or sponsored a Catholic being confirmed, you have made a promise to that person, to God, and to the whole Christian community, that you will help them to grow up as a member of God’s family. When did you last make contact with that person? Are you teaching them how to pray? If others in their life are critical of the Catholic faith, how have you encouraged them to stay faithful?
If you are an adult Catholic, you will have renewed each year at Easter, the committment made at your baptism that you will be a member of Christ’s Church – a promise made to God, and to the whole Christian community. So, I now ask you – and I include myself in the challenge – can our friends trust us to be Catholic? Can they trust us to be Christ to them in their time of need? Can they trust us to be people who pray for their needs? And on this day of fasting and abstinence, let us not forget that we are wielding spiritual weapons which can be used for the good of others. Who are we offering our fasting for today? A friend in trouble? A family member whose faith is weak? Our own need to growth in holiness?
It is God who invites us to wholehearted repentance. God knows how weak we are. We know that Christ came to forgive sinners: even from the Cross, he forgave those who were crucifying him, and invited the Good Thief to join him in heaven. The Good News – the Gospel – is that God is always willing to offer us another chance; today even the Old Testament readings speak loudly of God’s mercy.
The tough news is that on our part, we must be willing to change our ways in order to become more trustworthy. It may be that we have to keep promises we know we have been neglecting; we may also have to admit that we have limited capacity and withdraw promises which we know we cannot keep. This is hard – but honest!
To repent is not only to be sorry, but to choose to change. This is the challenge which we will each hear as we receive the ashes with the words: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”