Ash Wednesday 2016

Every car or truck needs a maintenance schedule.  Having your oil changed, your tires rotated and balanced, and the rest of the engine checked keeps your vehicle in excellent shape.

We have an annual physical, an annual eye exam and we should go to the dentist to have our teeth cleaned.  Preventative health will keep us in great shape and could be the way that serious health issues are detected.

Lent is a time of self-examination.  We need to look at ourselves very carefully. Our goal is to reach heaven.  Not everyone goes to heaven.  Is there something or a number of things that may keep you from going to heaven?  Is there a sin, an inordinate attachment or an addiction that could prevent you from gaining eternal salvation?

Many disasters could have been prevented if the warning signs were not ignored.
If a particular bridge was inspected the way it should have been, perhaps it would not have collapsed during rush hour traffic.

Maybe many marriages could have been saved if there was proper examination, detection and resolution. Maybe many priestly vocations could have been saved with proper formation and support. Perhaps many of the terrible scandals in the Catholic Church could have been avoided if the signs and the reports were not ignored.

There is a pervasive and characteristic weakness within our modern culture – we don’t want to examine and resolve problems.  Usually our sins, tendencies, attitudes and weaknesses will be easy to detect.  We know who we are and we know what we need to do.

The ashes on our forehead remind us of the human condition: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. However, sometimes, you will have to go real deep and discover inner attitudes that may be the root of your sinful behavior.  Sometimes you will need a spiritual colonoscopy.

Lent is a Catholic colonoscopy.  We need to go deep into ourselves and look at ourselves very closely.

The word “Lent” comes from an old English word which means “springtime” so it reminds us of spring cleaning and the new life in nature during spring. This season of Lent is a time of special grace for us in which we want to do some spring cleaning in our lives and enjoy new life as a result. Therefore, we have come here today to acknowledge that we are sinners. We want to clean up our lives during Lent. We want to leave sin behind and grow closer to the Lord. We want a change of heart this Lent.

The words of the Lord through the prophet Joel in our first reading are words that have special significance for us today as we begin this season of Lent and are words that we can easily see the Lord speaking to us personally,

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” (Joel 2:12-13)

Sometimes people ask, “What are you doing for Lent?” There is one thing to give up during Lent – sin. To show that we are serious about overcoming sin we do penance. Our penance during Lent as well as being a small attempt at reparation for our sins is a symbol of the change of heart we want to achieve. In the Gospel today (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18) Jesus spoke about prayer, fasting and giving alms. Since the early centuries these are three practices the Church has encouraged us to undertake during Lent as a form of penance: praying more, fasting and giving alms to the poor.

I wish you a holy season of Lent, a joyful season of Lent, a time in which you grow closer to the Lord and leave sin behind. The Lord comes to us with a different grace in each season. May the grace God give us during this season of Lent not be in vain.

I conclude with the opening prayer of Mass, “Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil. As we begin the discipline of Lent, make this season holy by our self-denial.”