Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we begin the blessed season of Lent with the Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season. On this day we mark this special occasion with the imposition of ashes on our heads, as a very symbolic act of us recognising our own mortality and the fragility of our existence. And as we impose the ashes on the crown of our heads, it represents our willingness to embrace God’s love and mercy, with repentant hearts and open minds, desiring to follow Him once again and to walk in His presence.
In our first reading today from the Book of the prophet Joel, we heard the Lord speaking to His people calling on them all to return to Him, to repent from their sinful and wicked ways so that they would not end up being separated forever. The prophet Joel, according to history and tradition, lived during the years after the return of the exiles of Israel and Judah from their humiliating exile in Babylon and other places, where for many decades they had to endure the sufferings and humiliation of having no place that they could call home.
They also had to endure the destruction of their homeland, their cities and capital Jerusalem, the Temple and House of God destroyed, and them scattered among the nations. They had to endure all that shame, but God did not forget about them, and as He Himself had promised to their ancestors, that He would rescue them and bring them back to the lands they and their ancestors once owned, thus, God fulfilled His promises to the people, who had atoned for their sins by their struggles and by remaining faithful to Him despite their predicaments. Many of them have regretted their ancestors’ and their own infidelity.
Thus, the Lord has shown mercy and compassion on them, embracing them as He moved the heart of Cyrus, the King of Persia to allow them all to return to their homeland, and not only that, but also to rebuild their cities and the Temple and House of God in Jerusalem. The Lord showed how He still loved them no matter what, and regardless of all that they had done in disobeying Him and betraying Him. However, the Lord also called on them to repent and to change their ways, so that they would sin no longer.
God has always remembered us, and He has given many opportunities to us to listen to Him and to change our ways for the better. St. Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians called on all the faithful to embrace this mercy, compassion and love that God has shown. And today as we listened to these words, we are all reminded of just how fortunate we are that God has always made this available to us, for us to return to Him and to find our way back to Him, and this season of Lent is a perfect opportunity and time for us to return to our most loving and merciful God.
That is why as we begin this season of Lent today, we are all reminded of the importance of this season as a time to prepare ourselves, our hearts and minds, our bodies and our whole entire beings so that we may be ready to welcome the Lord into our midst, to walk with Him and to be in His presence once again. The ashes that came from the remnants of the blessed palms of last year’s Palm Sunday are blessed and then imposed on our heads as the clear sign of our desire to come closer to God and to embrace His mercy, compassion and love especially during this penitential and blessed season of Lent.
And it is important that we understand fully the practices involved in this season of Lent and also on this particular Ash Wednesday. We fast and abstain on this day to mark this occasion of the Ash Wednesday, as we commit ourselves to a time of purification and reorientation of our lives, of our desire to abandon the excesses of worldly attachments and temptations. That is indeed why we practice fasting and abstinence today, and with regards to abstinence which we practice on each Fridays not just during the season of Lent but throughout the entire year as well.
We fast by restricting our intake of food to just one full meal a day with two smaller collations because we want to remind ourselves not to be overcome by greed and by our desires, and to remind ourselves that our physical bodies and existence, the desires of our flesh can and should be transcended, and through this we can also help ourselves to focus better on the Lord. And by abstaining from meat on this day and on other Fridays of the year, we are reminded to focus our attention on the Lord, especially to His most loving sacrifice on the Cross for us, on Good Friday. By the shedding of His Body and Blood, Our Lord has brought salvation upon all of us.
In our Gospel passage today, the Lord is therefore reminding us that as we enter into this season of Lent, we should not blindly do what the Church and the Law had instructed us to do, in our fasts and abstinences. We should not fast and abstain because we want other people to see just how devout, holy and committed we are to the Lord, and we should not fast and abstain just because we want to be seen by others and to be praised by them. If we fast and abstain, or do any other forms of Lenten observations and piety for the sake of doing it, or for appearances, then we are not doing it right, brothers and sisters in Christ. Our fasting and abstinence, among other things, are meant to bring us closer to God.
That is why today, on this Ash Wednesday, we must not be superficial in faith any longer. If we have not committed ourselves to a change in our attitudes in life, our outlook and focus, our efforts and others, then we have to seriously begin that change at this very instant. This season of Lent is that time of renewal of our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our souls and indeed, of our entire beings, as we are all called by God to return to Him, to His love and truth, to embrace once again His righteous and virtuous path, His grace and salvation. We may have fallen astray on the path, and have been tempted and dragged once again into the depths of sin, but God has never given up on us. He has kept giving us, again and again, the many opportunities for us to return to Him.
Hence, as we receive the imposition of these blessed ashes, let us not just show our repentance outwardly only, but also strive for a total internal repentance, reorientation and change of our lives, our actions, and indeed, everything that we are, all that we have done thus far. We have to wear those ashes on our heads, as a sign of total humility before God instead of pride. It is not a sign to be shown off as a symbol of piety or superiority over others, as quite a few would have inadvertently ended up making it a show of their faith, or as a measure of holiness and worthiness before God. And in that pride and ego, there can be no true forgiveness and reconciliation, brothers and sisters in Christ.
That is why, more than just receiving the imposition of the ashes on our heads, the crown of our body as a visible and tangible sign of our repentance, what is even more important is for us to rend our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our souls and our entire beings, casting out from them all the vestiges of pride and ego, of ambition, hubris and greed, of all the things that have kept us away from God for so long all these while. We have to cast all these away and renew our hearts, our whole entire beings by humbling accepting God’s freely offered love, forgiveness and mercy. We have to let Him enter into our hearts, to touch our minds and be present within us, in our being, as He dwells in us and among us. We have to allow the Lord to transform our lives.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all therefore commit ourselves this Lent, to be a better person and to be better Christians, ever more committed and dedicated disciples, followers, and children of Our most loving God and Father. Let us all draw ever closer to His throne of mercy, seeking Him and beseeching Him to welcome us back into His presence, as we come to Him not just with ashes on our heads, but even more importantly with the ashes that cover the whole of our hearts, our minds and our entire inner beings, as we show great regret and shame over our many, innumerable sins. Let us all ask the Lord to forgive us and to help us, so that we all may come ever closer to Him and find our true life and salvation through Him.
May God be with us all, and may He bless our Lenten journey and experience starting today, so that we may strive to be ever better Christians, not just in name, but also in words and deeds, in all things. Let us be more loving and charitable this Lent, and also resist the temptations to sin, in various forms and ways, by our faithful practice of fasting and abstinence, done right with the right focus and intent, not for ourselves but for the greater glory of God. May God bless us all, all of our actions, words and deeds, our many upcoming Lenten observances and works, that we may be worthy of Him in the end, when He comes again to gather all of His faithful. Amen.