At the beginning of Lent during the mass for Ash Wednesday, the mass concludes with a prayer of blessing over the people that says, “pour out a spirit of compunction, O God, upon those who bow before your majesty.” That prayer has always grabs my heart on Ash Wednesday. Compunction. Compunction is a sorrow for sin. A little kid was paying attention to the prayers and asked me after mass what compunction meant, and I told him it was the feeling you get when you realize you did something bad and wish you hadn’t. I think for us adults it might be closer to that feeling when you think of those things from the past that you can’t change anymore and your heart still sinks every time it pops into your head. But however you want to understand that word, you can’t escape that it is a powerful feeling of sorrow. We prayed, together as a community of faith, that we would receive a profound sense of sorrow this Lent. Not the usual emotion we pray to receive.
But those tougher movements of the heart are not as uncommon as we might think. This Gospel is profound in challenging emotions if you think about the experience of the three Apostles. It says that beholding the transfiguration of Christ and seeing this deeper revelation of Christ’s identity that they were terrified, so terrified that Peter couldn’t figure out what to really say. Then – while they were still terrified – a cloud enveloped them in darkness and they hear a voice say “this is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Finally, they walk away in confusion, not understanding what Jesus meant by rising from the dead. Peter, James, and John had were given a new understand of who Jesus and who God was, but it wasn’t easy to experience.
Here’s the thing: it’s hard for us to ask for compunction, it’s hard for us to ask to be terrified, it’s hard for us to ask that God strip every comfort and security away from us… but it is often in those moments that we are taught the greatest truth and fashioned into the surest of foundations. Can you image how much terror, how much fear, how much sorrow was in Abraham’s heart as he climbed up that height and built and altar and drew his knife thinking that he was being asked to sacrifice his beloved son? That trial wasn’t just a demonstration of his faithfulness to God, it was a moment in which Abraham himself became a greater man, worthy not just of being a father but of being a father of nations and a father of faith.
“Pour out a spirit of compunction, O God, upon those who bow before your majesty.” There is no Easter without three days in the tomb, and there is no seeing of Christ’s glory without seeing him bloodied and suffering. If Christ is going to heal your heart, if this season of Lent is going to bring about growth and transformation in your life, you must first face your own brokenness and know the pain that yearns for healing.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.