Wednesday, 10 February 2016 : Ash Wedneday, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we begin the season of Lent, the time of preparation before the great and glorious celebrations of Easter, a time for repentance, for forgiveness, and when the faithful and the whole Church unite together in fasting and abstinence, to remind ourselves that we are all sinners, unworthy and had been tainted by our disobedience against God.

The ashes today symbolised the nature of our sins, and how small we are before God, despite all of our greatness, our achievements, our talents and all the things we have accomplished and all the properties and goods we possess in this world. Remember the words of the priest, as he places the ashes on our foreheads or on our heads, that we are all man, mortal and sinners, and from dust we have come, and so to dust we shall return.

Ashes has been used since a long time ago, and also by the people of Israel as a sign of penitential intention, the desire of one to repent from one’s mistakes, as a symbol of humility and of unworthiness one feels because of one’s actions and misdeeds. And today the ashes we receive came from the palm branches used in the last year’s Palm Sunday celebration, which we also use for the same purpose, that is to remind us all that we are all penitents, all sinners seeking God’s ever loving mercy.

In the first reading today, we heard the prophet Joel who called the people of God to repent from their sins, casting aside their sinful ways and to repent before God, making a genuine change in their lives, and therefore receive the forgiveness from God, and a time of mercy when God would reunite all His people to Himself. Through the prophet Joel, we are reminded that God is compassionate and willing to forgive those who have sinned against Him.

And we must have heard about the prophet Jonah, who was sent to the city of Nineveh and its people, the capital of the mighty Assyrian Empire, to bring the words of the Lord that the city and all of its people would be destroyed because of their sins and their iniquities. And even though it was not mentioned what their sins were, but it was likely to be pagan gods, debauched lifestyle, and all the sins that the mighty Assyrians had done, in killing and causing harm to others.

And we heard how the people of Nineveh, all from the king to the lowest servants and people, all immediately stopped in their track, and they repented before God, regretting their wicked ways and asking for God to spare them the destruction and the punishment which He had intended for them. And God Who saw their sincere repentance, withheld His anger and showed His mercy to them, sparing them from the destruction which should have come their way.

In this, we see how God is loving and merciful to all of His people, even to the pagans and sinners. What is important however, is that this requires great effort and work in order for this to come into effect. Indeed, God offers His mercy generously and freely to all sinners and to all those who have wandered away from His path. But those to whom mercy had been shown, have they accepted God’s offer of mercy and have they done something to show their acceptance in sincerity?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in these days, as we often talk about mercy, and indeed, in this year, during this special Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, many of us often have a misconception about mercy and forgiveness. And there are even those who have espoused the thoughts that God’s mercy requires no effort from those to whom mercy have been shown, or that we should show mercy to others without requiring the other party to change their way or do something about their faults.

No, this kind of mercy is false mercy, and it is not what today’s Ash Wednesday celebration is about. For true mercy requires us indeed to show genuine mercy that is accompanied with the demand for sincere and genuine effort from the penitents to change their ways, sin no more and follow the Lord with all of their heart and might from now on.

Do we remember what Jesus did with the woman who was caught by the Pharisees and the elders having committed adultery with another man than her husband? In that, we heard how Jesus confronted those who desired to see her dead and those who wanted to stone her, by reminding them Himself, that as fellow sinners, for all of us have sinned be it in small or great degree, they have no right to judge others on their sins, and only God truly have the right for judgment.

But Jesus also said to the woman to sin no more and urged her to follow God’s path from then on. He did not let the woman go on with her old life and with her adulterous ways, but He showed her, and also all of us, that while we cannot be judgemental and condemning upon those who have sinned, but not doing anything to bring sinners back into the light of God is also something that is very wrong.

This is why, this season of Lent is the perfect time and opportunity for all of us, the reminder that we are all sinners who have committed sin before God, and how God wants to show us His mercy and love, but many of us remained adamant in our sinful ways, and how some can be obstinate and how they can turn a deaf ear against God’s loving mercy.

This is the time for us, to help one another to seek God’s mercy and to accept His offer of mercy with the sincerity from the heart. It is our duty and obligation, brothers and sisters in Christ, to bring one another closer to the throne of our Lord’s great mercy, and to inspire one another in seeking and having genuine repentance, turning away from all of our sins, abandoning all the sinful ways we have done, and beginning a new life blessed by God.

And the Church is helping us to do this, by providing us with this time and opportunity of Lent, to prepare ourselves, body, mind, heart and soul as we head towards Easter, the season of joy and renewal. And this is why we also fast and abstain during the time of Lent, to discipline ourselves, our bodies and minds, from the temptations of the evil one, and to genuinely seek the salvation of our God through our good works and efforts in faith.

We fast on this day, to remind our bodies, that desire and greed lead us to nowhere. And rather than seeking earthly and worldly pleasures, which is temporary and preventing us to find true joy, we should restrain ourselves and use the opportunity to find the way to reach out to God, to repent from our sins and change our ways. And this is why we also abstain from the bad things that we often do as well, to remind us that while sin and sinful things may seem to be good, but they lead us nowhere else but condemnation and hell.

And as Jesus said in the Gospel today, this day is not a day of gloom and sorrow, for we indeed do not fast or abstain to gain man’s approval. It is also not to show off our own abilities and greatness. Instead, this day should be a day of great joy, but tempered with the understanding and the desire for all of us to change our ways for the better, that indeed, God had been merciful to us, and because of that, we are saved.

Therefore, let us not be gloomy today, and let us not be shy to wear the ashes on our heads. Today is the day when our faith truly goes to the open, where everyone can see the sign of the ashes on our forehead or on our heads. Wear the ashes with joy, and with the understanding that the time of mercy has come. And let us not scandalise the Lord and our faith, that in our actions today and from now on should show our sincere efforts to be forgiven from our sins. Otherwise, we will be hypocrites, and there is no place for hypocrites save for hell.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us change our ways of old, our sinfulness and wickedness. Let us all change ourselves for the better and get rid of our past unworthiness, all the darkness that had covered the true light inside each and every one of us. Let us show the faith and love we have for God, and let us all go forth in being good disciples and followers of our Lord, preaching His Good News through our efforts and deeds wherever we are.

May God bless our observation of Lent, that it will be a great time of renewal for us all, and may He ever strengthen the desire in our heart to love Him and to be forgiven of our sinfulness. God be with us all, now and always. Amen.

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