Wednesday, 26 February 2020 : Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we mark the beginning of the sacred season of Lent, the forty days of preparation for the season of Easter. On this day which is Ash Wednesday, all of us as Christians are reminded of our own sinfulness, vulnerability and mortality, with the symbolic use of the blessed ashes sprinkled or marked on our foreheads that is accompanied by the words, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’ or ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’.

Today on Ash Wednesday we mark a break from our usual life with the practice of fasting and abstinence, in which all of us Christians are bound to do in accordance with the laws and rules of the Church. Abstinence is a must for all Christians aged fourteen years and above, for them to abstain from eating of meat, as well as other form of restraining of oneself from a desire. Meanwhile, fasting is compulsory for all Christians aged between eighteen and fifty-nine years old for them to have only one full meal during the day with two smaller meals called collations that when added do not constitute a full meal.

The practice of fasting and abstinence are done as part of our faith and the Church law as these help us to remind ourselves to not be overcome by the many temptations present in our lives, be it the temptation of wealth, the temptation of glory and fame, the temptation of pleasure and all sorts of other worldly pursuits that we often face daily in this life. This is why we practice fasting and abstinence because we want to control ourselves and restrain our desires and attachments to worldly things.

For all these attachments, desires and temptations in life often caused us to falter in our lives and in our journey towards God. As long as we allow ourselves to be distracted with those temptations in life, we will not be able to fully reconcile ourselves with God, and as a result too, we will likely be drawn further and further away from Him as if we allow our desires and all the worldly temptations to affect us, we will end up seeking self preservation and fulfilment in life, in our actions and words and deeds, thinking of our own wants and desires above that of serving God.

That is why so many of us mankind have forgotten about God, overlooking Him and denying Him His rightful presence and position in our lives. Instead of being the sole focal point and centre of attention, God has often been sidelined and ignored, and we only remember Him when we are in trouble and in need of help. Even then, many of us prefer to seek comfort and help from other sources besides God, as we are often tied by our own attachments to wealth, power, fame and all sorts of worldliness as mentioned.

The Lord has called all of us as Christians to free ourselves from all those things that often become obstacles in our path towards God and His salvation. He wants us to be rid of the excesses of our greed that kept our attention to be focused on fulfilling our desires and doing things that are contrary to what God has taught us through our Christian faith and the Church. That is why we fast, we abstain and restrain ourselves with humility and determination that we will not end up falling deeper and deeper into the path of sin.

That is why beginning on today, Ash Wednesday, we enter into this time and season of purification and the rediscovery of our faith. It is also a time to reorientate our lives and find our path towards God if we have fallen away or moved in the direction all these while. God has always been willing to welcome us back and forgive us all our sins, provided that we are willing to change our ways and repent wholeheartedly from our previous waywardness and sinful ways.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is exactly where the difficult part is, as too many of us are prevented by our ego and pride to admit that we have erred and made mistakes in our lives. We are too proud to admit that we have been wrong and that we are in need of healing, and that is why then many among us just carry on through life not bothered by our sins and failures to keep God’s laws and commandments. And thus on this particular day, as the blessed ashes are sprinkled on the crown of our heads or marked on our foreheads, we are reminded to humble ourselves that after all, no matter how great or prideful we are, if we allow sin to continue to reign over our lives, there will truly be nothing left for us but annihilation and damnation.

Many of us are distracted by the temptations I mentioned earlier, and we spent so much time and effort trying to pamper and satisfy ourselves, pleasing ourselves will all sorts of worldly preoccupations and rejoicing. We live thinking as if we will live forever or that whatever we have accumulated in life will be ours forever. We are obsessed with our appearances and with maintaining our good persona in front of everyone else, and yet, we forget that no matter how much we have invested into all these, it takes just one moment of death to separate us from all these.

As I said before, the blessed ashes remind us that ultimately, all of our ambitions and desires, our obsessions and schemings are meaningless due to our mortality, and we are all reminded of the shortness of our lives. We should not think that we can just do it as we please, and take advantage of God’s generous and rich offer of mercy. If we keep on postponing and delaying, waiting for the right moment for us to repent, we will be disappointed to know eventually that we may likely end up in damnation before we manage to repent.

We should not delay or wait any longer, brothers and sisters in Christ, and we have to make good use of this precious opportunity given to us to embrace fully God’s generous mercy and love. That is why this season of Lent is also known as the season of preparation for Easter, as not only just that we are looking forward to the glorious joy of Easter, but we are also reminded that during this period, we are to make ourselves ready in heart, mind, soul and indeed in our whole being to fully immerse ourselves in the celebration of the most important moments of the history of our salvation.

For Lent is when we are constantly reminded of the nature of our frail and weak human existence, easily tempted by the devil and all his wicked allies the evil spirits who are always ready all around us trying to bring about our downfall. And it is also then a reminder that while we have sinned and fallen from grace, but we must remember that in the end, the love of God for each and every one of us is even far greater than the terrible weight of our sins.

And that is why today we are reminded, that for all of our Lenten practices and observances, such as fasting and abstinence, as the Lord mentioned in our Gospel passage today, must have the right intention and purpose. We are warned not to follow the examples of the Pharisees who fasted publicly and with great emphasis to be seen and praised by others for their piety and observance of the Law of God. That kind of faith is empty and meaningless as deep inside their hearts, God was not present. Instead they were too full of pride to allow God to enter.

Why do we fast or do abstinence, brothers and sisters in Christ? Is it so that others see us and applaud our faith? Or is it that we can satisfy certain desires we have, such as being cleansed and forgiven from our sins? The second and latter one is certainly not too far from what we ought to be doing, but as I mentioned earlier, for forgiveness and mercy to come fully to us, there is a need for us to have that love for God and the desire because of that love to seek to be forgiven from our sins.

Remember how Christ loved each and every one of us who are sinners, who betrayed Him and abandoned Him, who were among those who condemned Him to a most painful death on the Cross. And yet, it is exactly because He loved us so much, that He was willing to bear the burden of the Cross for us. That is how the Cross of Christ become for us a symbol of victory and triumph from our sins, a symbol of God’s ultimate love for us and our redemption.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we bear the symbol of the blessed ashes on the crown of our heads today, and begin the proper season of Lent, are we able to love God with a new zeal and commitment knowing just how much He has loved each and every one of us all these while? If He can love us all so much to bear the immense suffering of the Cross, then surely we can also make the effort to love Him no? And this is why we fast and do our abstinence today, and observe our Lenten observations and practices, because we love God and because we love Him, we want to be purified from our previous, wicked ways.

Let us all begin this season of Lent right, brethren in Christ, that we may make good use of this time and opportunity given to us to change our lives and repent wholeheartedly in this season of Lent so that we who are sinners may be forgiven our sins by God, our loving Lord and Father, and receive from Him the assurance of new life filled with true joy and grace, by His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ and His loving sacrifice on the Cross for us. May the Lord be with us always and may His blessings always be upon us. I wish all of us, a most fruitful and blessed season and time of Lent. Amen.

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