HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY 2019 – 6th of March – Tulla – Matt Talbot Novena
Themes of Day
This is my third year in a row to be here for your special Novena of grace, the annual Matt. Talbot Novena. Last year, I was here also on Ash Wednesday, but last year, Lent was much earlier and it combined with St. Valentine’s day and the the theme given to me was God’s love for us. The previous year it was the centenary of Fatima, so the theme that year was our love and devotion to Our Lady. This year, however, there are no sub plots or diversions allowed and it down to plain old Ashes and repentance, the stuff of Ash Wednesday.
Overview of Novena
We do have an overall guiding theme for each of the weeks, just in case we stray too far from the point!
Today we talk about the Community of Faith, how we live that in Ash Wednesday and Lent. The following weeks the themes are:
- Community of Hope
- Community of Healing
- Community of Prayer
- Community of Forgiveness
- Community of Life
All excellent themes, bringing us deeper into the Paschal Mystery we celebrate at the end of Lent in our Easter Festival of Faith.
The Meaning of Lent
Lentinvitesall of us toa special time of prayer,fasting and penance.During Lent we bring before God our sinfulness. Our guilt, the fact that we have at times actedindependently of God and as if God did not exist. Yet we are constantly reminded that our God is “gracious and merciful……and relenting in punishment”. Lent is based on the principle that God shows compassion to our misery, even if that misery is a result of our sin. Lent also carries the hope that each of us will absorb something of God’s gracious concern. Lent offers us an opportunity to share the mind and heart of God so that we in turn may forgive others.
A time of Transformation
Lent provides an opportunity for transformation. This transformation must be deeply interior. The first reading from the Prophet Joeltodaytells us “rend your hearts, not your garments” and “be on your guard against performing religious acts for others to see”.
Transformation in the Psalm
In the Responsorial Psalm today the Psalmist calls for a new heart and a new spirit. Aware that we are sinners we aspire with our total self – spirit, heart and body – to defineand liveforgivenessin response to the forgivneness given to us. In this way we as a“new creation”that can restore joy and hopethat freely available tous.
You may have seen the news this evening – the lead story being the huge increase in people in Ireland seeking help for stress and depression related ailments. In my opinion one of the great anti-dotes to much of that and to restore a sense of balance to many lives is entry into this “new creation” to revive the sense of joy and hope in our lives. This can and will be assisted as the fruit of regular prayer and knowing that there is a greater power creating and recreating us and helping us cope with whatever great challenges come our way.
The Trap of Hypocricy
Central to the Jewish Religious practice were almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. In today’s gospel Jesus takes up and develops those three ideas. There is a double concern, namely
- to do God’s will and
- yet avoid the kind of display of virtue which the Pharisees stressed.
Jesus affirms the basis value of these practices, but places the emphasis that they be quietand unobtrusive. We are reminded that hypocrisyis the split in the religious person between the outward show and inner reality. While Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for this he always has in mind the fact that Christians could fall into the same trap.
The Meaning of the Ashes
Today, to remind us of our creaturely existence and create an awareness of our dependence on God ashes are placed on our foreheads reminding us that “we are dust, and into dust we shall return”. In wearing the Ashes today we are proclaiming boldly and publicly that we are a Tribe. We are as today’s theme reminds us a Community of Faith! Soldiers in faith in the army of Jesus Christ, ready to do battle against sin, negativity, the darkness of this world.
The Meaning of the Cross
Theashesof courseis combined with another symbol – the sign of the cross. The cross declares we have been redeemed. Along with the ashes it is a sign and badge of our identity as a member of that Commuity of Faith.
The ongoing struggle against Temptation
Every day but particularly in Lent, as Christians we face a struggle, like the one that Christ underwent in the dessert of Judea, where for forty days he was tempted by Satan and then in Gethsemane, when he rejected the most severe temptation, accepting the Father’s will to the very end.
Weapons of Combat
Lent reminds us that Christian life is a never ending combat in which the weapons of prayer, fasting and penance are used. They are used to fight against every form of selfishness and hate. In Lent we will often hear the re-echoing the invitation to convert and to belief in the Gospel and we are constantly encouraged to open our spirit to God’s grace.
Repentance involves a change in life, a turning around, a turning to what is essential in human life and not putting trust in human comfort zone.
Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving – Instruments of Conversion
Today’s first reading invites and encourages us to turn back to God with all our heart. Throughout the history of the Church fasting, prayer and almsgiving are seen as instruments in which we return to God.
The incentive of Lent
This Lent provides us with an opportunity to make Christ more central in our lives so that everything will revolve around him rather than around ourselves.
During these six weeks (or 40 days) of opportunity, of new beginning, we resolve to pick some concrete discipline, some real and “doable” discipline in the area of either prayer, fasting or almsgiving or taking on something positive in order to bring us closer to the redemptive suffering of Jesus Christ who died and rose for us during the original Holy Week.
In this journey, importantly we are not alone. As Church we are family, Community of Faith and we rely on the support, friendship and encourangement of each other in our Lenten efforts.
May the Lord be with us in our efforts to do that this sacred time of Lent and always and may the fruit of the tree of God’s passion bring the eternal reward it promises.