The Ash Wednesday
Fr. Joseph K. Horn
Ash Wednesday, 1998
Mary Star of the Sea High School
San Pedro, CA
Cyclops! Everybody knows what a cyclops is: that strange monster with one big eye in the middle of its forehead! And we think, what a bizarre creature, a cyclops, with one big eye right here.
But for 325 days of each year, we are all cyclopses! Here’s what I mean. What’s the first thing you think about each morning? We all think to ourselves, “What am I going to do today? How will I do it? What will happen to me today? How will I feel today?” I, I, I. And all day long, what do we say to people? We say things like, “I think this” and “I think that” and “I agree” and “I disagree” and “I like this” and “I don’t like that” and “I just want to say...”. I, I, I. And what’s the last thing that you think about at night? “I wish that so-and-so would stop doing thus-and-such to me” and “I really did a good job today” and “I wonder what I’ll do tomorrow.” I, I, I! Who is Number One? I am! Who is first in line? I am! Who is the most important person in the whole wide world? I am! What is at the forefront of all my thoughts? I am! If they were to open my brain and pull out the frontal lobe and extract the one biggest concept in that gray matter, what would it be? I, I, I! There is ONE GREAT BIG “I” right here in our heads! We are cyclopses!
The trouble with that, of course, is that you can’t see very well when you only have one eye. You’re half blind. Everything looks flat and two-dimensional. You have no depth perception. The real beauty of the world is lost on you. And I’m sure you’ve seen it happening to people around you. Every day you see people walking around totally blind to the beautiful things around them, because they are too busy thinking. Thinking about what? I, I, I. I’ll bet most of you here today in this beautiful church haven’t even seen most of the beauty here, because you’ve been too busy focusing on your One Big I. “What am I going to have for lunch today?” “What am I going to do?” “What am I going to say?” I, I, I. All this focusing on your One Big I leaves no energy left to focus with your two eyes, and so you become blind to the real world around you.
In Greek mythology, the cyclops was killed when they took his own sword and ran it through his one big eye, *chxchxchx!*. Well, guess what. In just a few moments, we are going to do exactly the same thing, right here in church. You will come forward, and the priest will dip his thumb in ashes, and then he’ll write a big “I” on your forehead, a big letter I, which stands for the One Big I that we all have at the front of our minds all day long, because we’re cyclopses.
And then, like a brutal stroke of the sword, the priest will cross that “I” out, like this: *chxchxchx!*, to symbolize that for these forty days of Lent we are not really cyclopses at all, that during Lent we won’t focus on our One Big I but will look outwards with our two real eyes, and see other people for a change, and see the beauty of God’s creation! Take that “I” at the front of your mind and cross it out! They used to call this “self denial” and “self mortification”. I think of it as killing the cyclops!
And all day today you’ll see other people with a big black cross on their foreheads. Look closely, and you’ll see that it’s really a crossed-out “I”. Look below that crossed out “I” and you’ll see two bright, intelligent eyes, eyes that can see you and that do see you. Look into their eyes, and see a beautiful creature of God, and care about them, care how they feel, and ask them how they are doing, and in every way you can, replace “I” with “You” this Lent, not only in your speech, but even in your thoughts.
Saint Paul said (Gal 2:20), “I live… no, not I, but Christ lives in me.“ When I put the ashes on your forehead now, I will not use the usual words (Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return). Instead, remember about the cyclops, as I say, “I… No, not I, but Christ in me.”