Theme: Be reconciled with God
My brothers and sisters, today we are entering a holy season of penance and mortification. Together, we have gathered here to celebrate Ash Wednesday, the first of forty days of the Lenten Season that precedes Easter. On this special occasion, we are called to be reconciled with God. Through the ashes that are symbolic of penance, we are reminded that we as sinners are but dust and ashes cf. Genesis 18:27. Today, in preparation for the joy of Easter that is approaching, we need to call upon the mercy of the Lord Jesus, asking Him for His blessings and forgiveness. Our heavenly Father does not want us to die but to live with the risen Christ. Through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we ought to prepare ourselves to celebrate his death and glorious Resurrection worthily.
The spiritual practice of applying ashes on oneself as a sign of sincere repentance goes back thousands of years. Frequently in the days of the old when someone had sinned, he/she had to dress in sack clothes and cover self with ashes cf. Jeremiah 6:26.The rite that we are observing today arises from that custom symbolizing public penitence. Church history tells us that the liturgical practice of applying ashes on one's forehead during the Lenten Season goes back as far as the eighth century. This was accompanied by fasting, prayer, sacrifice and charity towards the poor. The writings of St. Leo, around 461 A.D, tell us that during the Lenten Season, he exhorted the faithful to abstain from certain foods. We who happen to live in the age of consumerism, this form of prayer is important as it assists us to reflect on the gift of life.
First reading: Joel 2:12-18
Prophet Joel announces that the Lord God calls us to return to Him with all our hearts by fasting, weeping and mourning. We are told to split apart our hearts, not our clothing. To practice sincere repentance, the Lord tells us to change our wrong ways. We are called to examine our most inner self and let go all those evil ways once and for all. During this holy season we ought to remember that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not punish us if we are sincere and if we are willing to change. God is not a God of punishment but a God of love to those who strive earnestly to walk righteously. Prophet Joel reminds us that our sanctification in the likeness of God is not just for a few people but for all of us who have placed their hope in God.
The following reminders need to provoke our hearts as we are told to assemble the aged, to gather the children, and even the breast fed infants. Even the bridegroom should leave his room and the bride her canopy. This is a very powerful command that includes everyone, of all ages! This is the holy season when the ministers of the Church beg the Lord, asking Him on behalf of the people to show His mercy upon humanity. This is the time when we remind the Lord of His promises made to Abraham our spiritual father that we will inherit the Promised Land. The practice of reminding God of His promises is to draw His pity upon us who are weak. It is in doing so that He will not forget us. It is also a moment to assure us that we will not be mocked by those who say, ‘Where is your God?’ For our Lord God keeps His promises. He will save those who walk in righteousness. In this era of the joy of the Gospel, we need to gaze our eyes on the one who alone can save us and that is Lord God ever loving.
Second reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Through this reading St. Paul is appealing to us on behalf of Jesus to be reconciled to God. God the Father sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die for us on the cross. He who was without sin took our place and was treated as a sinner, so that we might become righteous in the eyes of God. What a horrible death we deserved; the death that Christ endured for us is beyond telling. All this was possible because of God’s divine love for us. Today once again, God reminds us that He heard our cries that were raised to Heaven and has helped us to secure our salvation. Now is the time for us to show our appreciation towards this act of love by walking in His righteousness so that we may inherit the salvation that we have asked of Him and which He is granting to us through His infinite care and mercy. This is a wonderful invitation that we should not let pass by us.
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
How do we walk in righteousness? Jesus answers this question during today’s Gospel. We walk in righteousness by not continuing to live in our worldly ways. Jesus warns us against hypocrisy common to those who are pious so that they may be seen by others. He says that they have received their rewards through those who admired them and praised them for it. For them, there is no reward from God the Father in Heaven.
During this Lenten Season, our piety must manifest private and privileged time between the Lord God and ourselves. We must experience a transformation of our whole being beyond going to Church. We must walk with Christ in our lives every minute of the day, from the time we rise in the morning until the time we go to bed at night. Equally, when you sacrifice by giving to the Church or by reaching out to someone in need, your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing. Do it privately and then forget about it. If you give a donation to the Church so that you can receive a larger reward, then you are missing the point. Important must be as Christ is instructing us that our right hand must not knows what our left hand is doing. Meaning, our right hand is giving while our left hand is waiting to receive its benefit.
If you decide to increase your time of prayer during the Lenten Season, do not do it in open space for others to see and applause your piety. If that is the case, then such a behavior will make you receive your reward on earth by those who will praise you for your demonstrations. Rather when you pray, go in your inner room, close the door and pray to God the Father in private so the Heavenly Father may see you in private and reward you.
If you decide to fast, do not overdo it to the extent that you look weak and sick so the others will notice that you are fasting. Fast to the degree that you can manage, always being cheerful and looking healthy so no one but God will know that you are fasting. Then, God the Father will reward you. All this is intended to assist us to be reconciled to God! These are the guidelines that the Church has received from God so the faithful may experience true repentance and receive Divine mercy and forgiveness. As you enter the Lenten Season, remember these words every day! Practice them! And I assure you that God shall reward you! This is the time to regain our joy and lost glory and to be able to achieve this we have to repent and believe the good news.
The forty days that we have ahead of us are a moment of grace that God is granting us. Let us utilize them for the sake of our salvation by fasting, praying, mortifying our selves and through acts of charity towards other especially the poor.
Fr. Paulino Mondo