Wednesday, 22 February 2023 : Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today marks the beginning of the season of Lent with this commemoration of Ash Wednesday. On this day as we receive the imposition of ashes on our forehead, we are all reminded of the fickle nature of our existence in this world, and how we are not meant to last forever in our current life. Eventually, we shall reach the end of our lives and existence in this world and we shall be made accountable for our lives and how we have lived them. And unless we remain vigilant and keep in mind the commandments, the precepts and the Law of God, we may end up falling into the wrong path, tempted and swayed by sin and evils all around us. Hence, that is why we have this season and time of Lent to help us to reorientate our lives and redirect our attention and focus back towards the Lord once again.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Joel, we heard of the Lord calling upon His people to return to Him, to entrust themselves once again to His providence, love and grace. We heard the Lord calling on all the people to repent and turn away from their many sins and wicked ways, and how He is truly merciful, compassionate and filled up with great and most generous love for each and every one of us. According to historical evidence and signs, the prophet Joel lived during the time after the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, the exile of the remnants of the people of God to distant lands of Assyria and Babylon. Hence, what the Lord spoke to His people through the prophet Joel was a reminder that despite all the wicked things that the people had done, ultimately, His love for them still prevailed.

Yes, the Lord truly loves all of us, His people, His children and all those whom He has cherished. He did not create us all in order to destroy or punish us, but it was by our own disobedience and sins which we have separated and sundered ourselves from the fullness of God’s love and grace. God still loved us regardless, as He despised our sins and wickedness, but not us personally. What He wants us to do is to distance ourselves from those sins and wickedness, and to turn away from all the rebellious and sinful attitudes that are unworthy of Him. If only we can embrace His love, compassion and mercy once again, we will receive the fullness of His forgiveness and grace, and we shall be lifted out of our predicaments, troubles and trials in life. He has always promised us all that He will care for us and liberate us from our troubles, and He has indeed fulfilled it all.

In our second reading passage today, taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Church and the faithful in Corinth, we heard about the Apostle speaking to the people of God regarding the salvation that God Himself has brought upon His people. St. Paul reminded us all how the Lord has sent us His own beloved Son to be our Saviour, and to provide us with the sure and guaranteed way out of the darkness and the predicaments of our lives. He showed us all the proof and manifestation of His ever enduring love for us through His Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Through Him, all of us have seen the light of God’s salvation, and therefore we are reminded today at the beginning of this season of Lent, that having seen and received the love of God shown to us through Christ and all that He has done for us, even to the point of enduring all the sufferings for us, and dying on the Cross, we are all called to return to the Lord once again with faith.

In our Gospel passage today, we then heard of the Lord Jesus speaking to His disciples and followers regarding the matter of fasting and why one should be fasting and how they ought to be fasting in the right manner. Contextually, at that time, the people of God especially the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had not been living their lives with genuine faith, as they were doing all those things like fasting and even almsgiving for appearances, fame and praise by others. The Lord Himself often criticised the Pharisees for parading themselves and their piety before others, showing off just how faithful and dedicated they were to God, so that they could be praised by everyone and be esteemed and respected as they desired. That is why, He told His disciples and hence all of us that whatever we do in life, we have to do it out of genuine faith in God and because we truly love God and His people, our fellow brothers and sisters.

During this season of Lent, we are all called to genuine conversion of heart and to rediscover once again the love that we ought to have for God, to put our trust once again in Him and to renew our commitment to Him, distancing ourselves from the wickedness of the world and from the corruption of sin, and coming to Him seeking for forgiveness from our many faults. As I mentioned earlier on, God truly loves each one of us, and while He despises our sins, He truly wants us to be reconciled to Him, and this season of Lent is the perfect opportunity and time that He has given us again and again, for us to spend in reflecting upon our lives and think carefully of what we should be doing moving forward in life. Should we continue to walk down the path of sin and rebellion against God, indulging in the many worldly vices and temptations? Or should we instead seek the Lord with renewed vigour and zeal?

This Lent, all of us are called to spend more time with God, to be more faithful and committed to Him, and the practices that the Church has called us to do this Lent, which includes the fast and abstinence we ought to do today on this Ash Wednesday, as well as greater love and charity, generosity and almsgiving, all these should be done because we have the desire to love God more, to come closer to Him and be reconciled with Him, and not because we want to be recognised and praised in our faith, as the Pharisees had once done. That is why we are reminded today that our actions and observances of Lenten practices should be done out of focus on the Lord and the Lord alone, and not to satisfy our greed and worldly ambitions, or to gain us fulfilment and good feeling. This Ash Wednesday is a good reminder of this need for us to turn back once again towards God with faith.

Today, on Ash Wednesday, as we have ashes imposed upon us, on our head or on our forehead, let it be a reminder for us that we are all sinners in need of God’s healing and mercy, and let that ash not be a symbol of pride, for us to show off our faith to others. Instead, the ash should be a reminder instead of our humility and our need of help and regeneration from God, that as we rend not just our bodies, but also our hearts, minds, our souls and our whole beings, we commit ourselves to the Lord into a whole new existence that is focused and centred on Him. Let the ash be the commitment that we make to distance ourselves from our sinful past, ever reminded of our mortality and how sin has led us down this wrong path. And let us all rise again from the ashes, through our commitment to live our lives with greater faith and confidence in God, from now on.

Hence, as we enter into this season of Lent, let us all rediscover the love we ought to have for God, putting Him once again as the centre and focus of our lives. Let us also nurture the same love that we should have for our fellow brothers and sisters all around us, as God has also called us to be generous in loving one another, and we ought to do it unconditionally and willingly, not because we seek for benefits or return of what we have given. Let us all make good use of this time and season of Lent, and may all of us have a great experience in our preparation throughout this blessed time, that we may grow ever closer to God and be worthy to receive the fullness of His grace and love. Wishing us all a most blessed, holy and fruitful Lenten season. Amen.