Libby Caes’ Homily from Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016

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Ash Wednesday

February 10, 2016

2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:10, Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-20


In our world of texting and twitter, and the constant volleys and verbiage of politicians and Presidential candidates…we are invited to something very different and profound

We are invited to move beyond the external observances of piety and become mystics, living out our relationship to God in secret.

We are invited to store up our treasure in heaven.

This past Sunday on the Feast of the Transfiguration Steve Zwettler reminded us that

God is knowable; we, too, can have a profound and deep experience of God.


Tonight’s gospel reading:

In secret alms given to God,

In secret going into our inner room and praying to God;

In secret fasting that is seen by God.

God who sees in secret rewards us.


In secret: hidden, cannot be seen or known by others.

Your relationship with God, my relationship with God is in secret.

You cannot experience my relationship with God, I cannot experience yours.

Each is unique.


Two visual images come to mind.

The first is our eyes:

Recently I had my eyes examined by a 2nd year ophthalmology resident. Something was not quite right. While I lay back Alex looked and looked and looked with his fancy lighted magnifying glass.  When he finished he said, “There is a vast world in there”

My internal response was “Wow, I have never heard that before!”

Alex saw me on Christmas Eve on an emergency basis. He was in a good mood and harbored no resentment for this emergency on Christmas Eve. But, more importantly, and despite his years of training, he had retained his sense of wonder and awe.  His presence was a gift, one I had not anticipated receivimg!

Did you know that the average human eyeball is 24 millimeters wide, less than an inch?

It is a hidden, secret world waiting to be explored.

The second image is a cave:

Last week Dave and I visited a cave in Decorah, Iowa.

We didn’t go in the cave; we just stood outside the entrance. To go in one needs the right equipment, the right clothes and experience. You enter it by doing a belly squirm, getting down on your stomach and sliding in.

This cave, according to the display outside of the entrance is 100 feet long and very skinny, like a needle. From the outside, you have no idea it is there.

Again, something hidden and secret, waiting to be explored.



The mystics speak of the “cave of the heart”

The heart enters the cave, our interior space where the Holy dwells.

Our heart finds its way through the raw immediacy of presence.

God has gifted each of us with a heart.

One’s heart is the organ is spiritual perception.

It is not ours to possess, it belongs to God.

The heart is the highly sensitive instrument that keeps us aligned on the spiritual journey.

As one needs special equipment to enter a cave or search the inner recesses of the eye, the spiritual journey must be undertaken with a pure heart.

So we pray with the Psalmist:

Create in us a clean heart, O God, put a new a right spirit within me.


And, we hear the plea of the prophet Joel:

Return to me with all your heart,

With fasting, with weeping and with mourning;

Rend your hearts and not your clothing.


To enter the cave of our hearts, our inner room, intention is also necessary,


Our will must desire entrance and choose to be present.

Knowing God must be the treasure we yearn for above all others.


How do we know that there is truly a cave within us to explore??

Is it real?? Or are these fanciful wistful words?


We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses on this journey. These people have had a profound and deep experience of the Mystery.

In the cloud of witnesses are the desert father and mothers.

Abba Poemen said, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”

In the cloud of witnesses are women such as Hildegard von Bingen who had visions from a very early age.

I highly recommend the novel, Illuminations, the story of her life.

In the cloud of witnesses are the Jewish mystics such as Abraham Heschel, cited by Steve Zwettler this past Sunday.

In the cloud of witnesses are the Sufi mystics such as Rumi who asks us:

Why are you knocking at every other door? Go knock at the door of your own heart.

In the cloud of witnesses are our contemporaries who guide us on the spiritual journey.

I close with this quote from Thomas Merton, a 20th century mystic:

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness that is untouched by sin and illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives…this little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God written in us…it is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven.

This is our treasure, this is the pearl of great price.

May it be our heart’s desire on the  Lenten journey.




The most common meaning of the word “repent” is to change direction in where you are looking for happiness.

When we hear the word “repent” we might feel sorry for ourselves for the bad things we have done.

But the Greek word, metanoia, literally means to go beyond the mind. Go beyond the mind, be transformed. This is what we do as we enter the cave of the heart.

This is what we are invited to as we come forward and receive the ashes with the words,

“Repent and believe the good news.”

Let us hear the good news not only in our minds but with our hearts.

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