“Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. – Joel 2:12-13
These words, from today’s Epistle, are familiar, for they are read to us every Ash Wednesday. They give us a clear sense of what this Holy Season of Lent is about. But this passage begs a question. It begins with “Yet even now,” what exactly is this “now” that this passage refers to? Well, if we were to open up our Bibles and take a look at the beginning of the chapter, we will find a description of what this “now” refers to. Here is what it says:
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near, a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful people;
their like has never been from of old,
nor will be again after them
through the years of all generations.
Fire devours before them,
and behind them a flame burns.
The land is like the garden of Eden before them,
but after them a desolate wilderness,
and nothing escapes them.
Their appearance is like the appearance of horses,
and like war horses they run.
As with the rumbling of chariots,
they leap on the tops of the mountains,
like the crackling of a flame of fire
devouring the stubble,
like a powerful army
drawn up for battle.
Before them peoples are in anguish,
all faces grow pale.
Like warriors they charge,
like soldiers they scale the wall.
They march each on his way,
they do not swerve from their paths.
They do not jostle one another,
each marches in his path;
they burst through the weapons
and are not halted.
They leap upon the city,
they run upon the walls;
they climb up into the houses,
they enter through the windows like a thief.
The earth quakes before them,
the heavens tremble.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining.
The Lord utters his voice
before his army,
for his host is exceedingly great;
he that executes his word is powerful.
For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible;
who can endure it?
YET EVEN NOW! Even in the midst of darkness, terror, confusion, the sun, moon, and stars not giving light, the drumbeat the of war, fire, and destruction of every kind. Even now, says the Lord, return to Me.
The times described here as the “day of the Lord” are much like our own. We can see it both in the Church and in the world. In the world we see the darkness and clouds of the culture of death envelop us. Joe Biden and his administration are fighting tooth and nail to make sure that every woman has the “right” to murder their own baby while it is still in her mother’s womb. We see our nation devolve into violence where mobs of wicked people riot, loot, and murder with the approval of many of our leaders. We hear the drumbeat of war in far off lands as even our Capitol is surrounded by a fence and armed soldiers occupy Capitol Hill. We have division far and wide, with constant questions about the integrity of our elections. Hatred abounds in politics and society at large. And this is only the beginning! I could go on and on, and this is only our country!
The Church fares no better. As Pope Paul VI rightly said in 1972, “… We would say that, through some mysterious crack—no, it’s not mysterious; through some crack, the smoke of Satan has entered the Church of God.” Indeed, the smoke and filth of Satan has entered into the very halls of power within the Church. The very bride of Christ has been sullied by her leaders.
We have seen in the last hundred years the systematic destruction of the Sacred Liturgy, and the consequent disbelief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We have seen dissident theologians, even bishops, cardinals, and, perish the thought, popes, infiltrate the Church with the purpose of injecting confusion, false teaching, and Marxist ideas into her. We have seen homosexual, drug filled orgies just yards from the resting place of the Rock, St. Peter. We have witnessed the horrific abuse of minors by priests, bishops, and cardinals. As if that was not bad enough, the primarily homosexual predation was covered up, even to the point of the highest authority in the Church knowing about it, and still reassigning these same abusers to prestigious posts. We have seen over and over again financial scandals in the Vatican. And it only seems to get worse by the day as more and more priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes are revealed for who they really are.
Yes, darkness, destruction, and great evil is at work, even in our beloved Church.
We could, with all this, think that all is lost, that evil has won, and now all that is left is for final disaster to come. We could become bitter and angry. We could lose our peace and despair. But that is not the way of the Christian. The way of the Christian is to even now, in most dire circumstances, to turn back to the Lord with all our heart, with fasting, with weeping and mourning, and with hearts torn asunder in grief over the sin that has invaded our lives. Then, when the Lord has seen our repentance, he may relent.
The response of the Christian is to turn to Jesus; to turn to him with great trust in his mercy and love. Now, my children, is the time of mercy, so we must embrace that mercy now, before it is too late. As Jesus said to St. Faustina, “Speak to the world about My mercy; let all mankind recognize My unfathomable mercy. It is a sign for the end times; after it will come the day of justice. While there is still time, let them have recourse to the fount of My mercy; let them profit from the Blood and Water which gushed forth for them.” (Divine Mercy in My Soul, 848) The fount of mercy that Jesus here refers to is the Sacrament of Confession, wherein the blood of Jesus flows down upon us from his wounded heart washing away our sins. This is THE way that we turn back to the Lord. During these times, more than ever, we need to visit the tribunal of mercy often, even weekly! Would that every priest had to hear confession eighteen hours a day, as St. John Vianney did, because the demand for the Sacrament was so high.
As we stand on this Ash Wednesday, we see the forty days of Lent stretch before us. These days are given to us as precious opportunities to turn back to the Lord before it is too late. The days are dark. The smoke of Satan is everywhere. Destruction is all around us. For many of us, there are personal struggles that weigh heavily upon us, and all seems lost. Even now, says the Lord, turn to me!