Pastoral Reflections

Ash Wednesday – 2017

The word “Lent” is derived from an old English word which means “springtime”. It serves to remind us that spring is just around the corner.

During spring, many of us engage in cleaning / refreshing our homes. The season of Lent is a time of special grace for us, in which we focus on doing some spring cleaning in our lives in order to enjoy the newness of life.

In the spirit of Lent, we have come here today to formally acknowledge that we are prone to sinning. Our goal is to begin the process cleaning up our personal and spiritual lives. We seek the strength to leave sin behind and to grow closer to the Lord. We seek an authentic change of heart over the next 40 days.

The words of the Lord through the prophet Joel in our first reading, are words that have special significance for us today as we begin this season of Lent. They are words that we can easily see the Lord speaking to us personally. “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” (Joel 2:12-13)

The words of Paul in our second reading to the Corinthians are also very relevant for us as we begin this season of Lent. Paul writes, ‘We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

In the Scriptures when people left sin behind and turned over a new leaf they used ashes to symbolize their repentance. Job said, “I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) In the Book of Daniel, we read that Daniel, “turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” (Dan 9:3) Jesus said, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13). Therefore, in a spirit of repentance we will this day approach to receive ashes on our foreheads.

Sometimes people may ask, “What are you doing for Lent?” There is assuredly one thing to give up during Lent and that is sin. This season of Lent is a preparation for renewing our baptismal promises during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night.

Paul says, when writing to the Romans (6:3-6), ‘that when we were baptized we died to our old way of life to live a new way of life i.e. when we were baptized we died to our old sinful ways, we left sin behind’. Therefore, Paul says that when we were baptized ‘we went into the tomb with Jesus and rose out of the tomb again with Jesus to a new life’.

The season of Lent is to give us time once again to die to our old sinful ways and rise out of the tomb with Jesus to a new way of life so that by the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, when we renew our baptismal vows we will also have renewed our lives.

That is why the First Preface of Lent says, ‘Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed’.

In our second reading Paul wrote to the Corinthians not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor 6:1). During Lent this year let us too not receive the grace of God in vain. Penance is a way show that we are serious about overcoming sin. Our penance during Lent as well as being a small attempt at reparation for our sins is a symbol of the change of heart we want to achieve.

In the Gospel today (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18) Jesus spoke about prayer, fasting and giving alms. Since the early centuries these are three practices the Church has encouraged us to undertake during Lent as a form of penance: praying more, fasting and giving alms to the poor. We fast today and on Good Friday and abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent. In a spirit of repentance, we have always fasted from one of our favorite foods for the entire season of Lent. It is a way of showing that we love the Lord more than food and that we love the Lord more than sin.

There are many ways of giving alms. We also show love for the Lord by helping others. I hope Lent may also be for you a time of growing closer to the Lord by spending more time in prayer. This would also be a good time to renew our efforts to read the Bible and other spiritual books. I wish you a holy season of Lent, a joyful season of Lent, a time in which you grow closer to the Lord and leave sin behind. The Lord comes to us with a different grace in each season. May the grace that God gives us during this season of Lent not be in vain.

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