Homily for Ash Wednesday
click here to download the audio file (Quicktime format).
Today’s intro music is taken from “Attende Domine”, a traditional Gregorian Chant for Lent, sung here by the De Souza family on their album, “Sensus Sacrorum”.
Today, Ash Wednesday, we launch ourselves into the voyage of Lent towards Easter. Pope Benedict XVI in his message for Lent this year points out that this liturgical season is meant to be a sort of reliving of Baptism and, thus, of our participation in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
This requires that we recognize our sins and show true repentance, ridding our lives of selfishness and turning towards God. As the Pope explains, there are three fundamental ways of doing this: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer – which Jesus talks about in the Gospel reading today, emphasizing the importance of doing them with purity of intention, before God, not just for show to make ourselves look holy.
By fasting, we mortify our selfishness and sensuality, looking to God for our sustenance and solace. This also helps us to understand better the needs and suffering of other people, opening our hearts more to those in need and leading naturally to almsgiving. We reject the tendency to make material goods the goal of our lives, and instead see them as an opportunity to share God’s blessings with others. One traditional way to combine fasting and almsgiving is to cut down on the amount and expense of food we consume, and give the money that is saved as a result to the poor.
Central to all of this is not only looking away from ourselves towards others, but also seeking God more directly in prayer. In his Lenten discourse, the Pope particularly mentions reading and meditating on Sacred Scripture as a “precious and irreplaceable form of prayer”, through which God nourishes our faith and strengthens our hope in the God we love.
Living Lent well is not easy; it goes against the grain. The more we try to die to ourselves and be more like Christ, the more we will see our own weakness and failings. However, this is not a bad thing; we can only progress if we know where we need to grow. The ashes we will receive on our foreheads today are a reminder and symbol of our need for repentance, and death to sin and selfishness, to live for Christ.
In fact, this is a good time to remember that we have a duty as Catholics to receive Communion at least once a year during the Easter season. In order to do that, we have to go to the sacrament of Confession, if we have committed any grave sins. Lent is a traditional time to take that preparatory step. In the words of the Holy Father, “the Lenten period is a favorable time to recognize our weakness and to accept, through a sincere inventory of our life, the renewing Grace of the Sacrament of Penance, and walk resolutely towards Christ.”