Homily for Ash Wednesday
Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. Our Gospel for today really speaks about these aspects of Lent in a truly beautiful way. In fact, this Gospel kind of gives us the roadmap for making a successful Lent.
Prayer. As Christians, it is a necessity for us to pray and have a personal relationship with God. That relationship is the very foundation of every aspect of the Christian life. From it, we receive and strengthen our identity as beloved sons and daughters of the Father. And flowing from that identity we also receive our mission as Christians. We come to know how the Lord is calling us to love Him, to serve Him, and to give witness to Him.
Fasting. This particular practice of the Lenten season has much more meaning to it than simply giving something up. We are called to examine our hearts and discover the areas of our lives where we constantly turn away from God. When we go to confession, what are the sins that we typically confess? We all have our favorite sins – those sins that we constantly find ourselves falling into. What might the Lord be calling us to sacrifice surrounding those things? Fasting is meant to help us learn how to be better disciplined, to grow in being able to control ourselves better and live more in line with the teachings of the Church. Are we going to take that seriously this Lent?
Almsgiving. Lent isn’t just about giving something up; we are also asked to add something, to do something for the Lord and for others. Each Lent, we are called to embrace the act of charitable giving as a way of making the needs of other people our own. “One of the central lessons of the cross is compassion; the heavy burdens we carry help us to appreciate the suffering in others. Sharing our material goods is often just the beginning of real Christian giving. We are also called to share our time tending to people in need.” So this Lent, what practical things can we do to unite ourselves to the suffering of others and to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross?
Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. The keys to a successful Lent, which begins today with the celebration of Ash Wednesday, the beginning to what sometimes can be the lengthy journey of Lent. As we begin this holy season, let’s take a moment today, in prayer, to thank God for all that He has done for us in bringing us to this point, thank Him for all the blessings He has given us throughout our lives. We should also take some time to reflect on what the Lord may be calling us to sacrifice, to fast from this Lent. And then make a resolution to do something as well. In what way is the Lord calling us to do something for others?
In just a few moments, we will all come forward to receive ashes, a reminder to us that we were fashioned out of the dust and will one day return to that dust. It’s a call to us to take seriously our own journeys of faith. This year, the distribution of ashes will look differently than in years past. Rather than having the ashes placed in the sign of the cross on our foreheads, they will be sprinkled upon the tops of our heads. When you come forward, we ask that you bow your heads so that the minister can place ashes appropriately. You will hear us say: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” After hearing those words, you may return to your pews.
When we leave here today, we won’t have a visible sign expressing to others that we are Christians. That means that we will have to be those visible signs. We will have to be those witnesses that point others to Christ by our words and our actions, something that we are called to strive for each and every day, not just on Ash Wednesday. We will rise to the challenge? May we all go out and be those witnesses that bring others to an encounter with Christ.