04 March 2014


Ash Wednesday
Mt 6:1-6; 16-18 (Jl 2:12-18 / Ps 51 / 2 Cor 5:20-6:2)

Every year, we go through the season of Lent.  As far as we can remember, it always begins on a day like this: a Wednesday.  We call this Wednesday “Ash Wednesday”.

We begin the holy season of Lent by imposing ashes on our forehead as a sign not so much to remember that we are dust and unto dust we shall return as to signify our humble response to the Lord’s call to conversion of life.  After all, there is no use remembering that we are dust and that we will certainly return to dust someday were we not to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.  Our body decays but we are more than just our body. We are embodied spirits.  When breath is snatched away from us, our body returns to dust but our spirit lives on.  Don’t get it wrong though, we are not prisoners of our body. Rather, our body is made sacred by our baptismal consecration.  As our spirit longs for God, our body turn to Him.

But we do turn away from God, don’t we?  Yes, we do when we sin.  For when we sin we attempt to dislodge God from the center of our life.  When we sin we tell God, “I don’t need You.  I can live without You.  I refuse to obey You.  I don’t trust You.  I can do it on my own.  I don’t need You.  I don’t love You.”

Thus, when our conversion is genuine, we do not only turn away from sin; we must also turn toward God.  For turning away from sin does not automatically yeild to turning toward God.  Sometimes we do turn away from one sin only to turn toward something or someone lesser than God, if not a totally antithesis of Him.  Turning away from sin is only half of what conversion demands from us.  The other that completes it is turning toward God.  The formula recited by the minister as he imposes ashes on our forehead emphasizes this.  He does not simply say, “Turn away from your sins.”  He completes the call to conversion by adding the second half: “And believe in the Gospel.”  To believe in the Gospel is to surrender our self to Jesus who not only helps us turn to the Father but leads us to Him as well.

What sin do you need to turn away from?  But do you turn to God as you turn away from sin?

True to her identity as a “mother” to us, the Church guides us in our turning away from sin and turning toward God through Jesus Christ.  She gives a definite form to our Lenten observance by highlighting in our consciousness three acts which, in truth, should be our daily concern even if it were not Lent.  Holy Mother Church counsels us to pray, fast, and give alms.  Some call these three as Lenten discipline.  Indeed, like true mother that she is, the Church disciplines us by requiring us to commune with God, to sacrifice the self, and to do charitable deeds unto others.  But like any discipline, prayer, sacrifice, and charitable deeds are not the ends in themselves.  They are the means.  Is there a good parent who disciplines his or her child for the sake of disciplining, much less for the purpose of punishing the child?  No.  The purpose of discipline is more noble that the form of discipline itself.  Holy Mother Church gives us the Lenten discipline of prayer, sacrifice, and charitable deeds to help us really focus on what is essential in our life as Christians: God with Whom we become intimate in prayer, from Whom we draw the strength to sacrifice the self, and through Whom our sacrifice becomes life-giving as others, most especially the poor, benefit from our charity.

To focus on God is to focus on love, for the Apostle John wrote in his first epistle, chapter 4, verse 8, “God is love”.  Thus, we turn away from sin as we turn toward love.  This is never a passive act on our part, for as we are turning away from sin we strive to be more loving, we strive to love as God loves.  And the more loving we are the more we become like God (Cf. 1 Jn 3:2).  Therefore, it is clear that it is not the holy ashes on our forehead that make us holy, but the love in our heart.

Have you come to church today simply for the holy ashes?  But is your heart filled with love?  You may have all the holy ashes you want but it means nothing without these two: conversion of life and resolution to love.

Love teaches us to be better in all things.  Love empowers us to do better in all things.  It is the “better” that counts, not the “more”.  May the Lenten journey we begin today help us really pray better rather than pray more, sacrifice better rather than sacrifice more, and give better rather than more.  Without love, we may pray more, sacrifice more, and give more without praying better, sacrificing better, and giving better.  Put love in all things and they will become better.  The “more” comes as a “bonus”!

You have ashes but do you have love – real love, not counterfeit love, not “mushy-mushy” romantic love, not noisy love, but Christ-like love?  Come, receive holy ashes but come and offer your hearts to God.  Offer your hearts to God through others.  Can we make a promise: Beginning today we will strive to love better at all times?  We will make our loving truly life-giving.

So today we take the first step in the forty-day journey ahead of us.  And we do so with much love.  But it is not a perfect love but love being perfected.


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