Sunday: Ash Wednesday Date: March 1, 2017. Year: A The readings: [Joel 2:12-18; 2 Cor. 5:20-6:2; Mt. 6:1-6, 16-18] The message: Be reconciled to God. Prepared by: Catholic Doors Ministry. Total words: 1336
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My brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are entering a new Season, one of penance and sacrifices. Together, we have gathered here to celebrate "Ash Wednesday," the first of forty days of the Lenten Season that precedes Easter.
On this special occasion, we are called to be reconciled to God. Through the sacramental of ashes that is symbolic of penance, we are reminded that we as sinners are but dust and ashes. [Gen. 18:27]
Today, in preparation for the joy of Easter that approaches, we call upon the mercy of the Lord Jesus, asking Him for His blessings and forgiveness. For the Heavenly Father does not want us to die but to live with the risen Christ who reigns forever and ever. As such, through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we prepare ourselves to celebrate the death and glorious Resurrection of Christ our Saviour by being cleansed from our sins through a renewal of spirit.
The spiritual practice of applying ashes on oneself as a sign of sincere repentance goes back thousands of years. Frequently in the days of the Old and the new Testament, as we have heard from the readings of the Scriptures during the past year, when someone had sinned, he cloth his body with sackcloth and covered himself with ashes. [Jer. 6:26]
The sacramental that we are observing today arises from that custom, the spiritual practice of observing public penitence.
Church history tells us that the liturgical practice of applying ashes on one's forehead during the Lenten Season goes back as far as the eight century. This was accompanied by different forms of fasting, prayer, sacrifices, charity towards others, etc... The writings of St. Leo, around 461 A.D., tell us that during the Lenten Season, he exhorted the faithful to abstain from certain food to fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of forty days.
As we heard during today's First Reading from the Book of Joel, the Lord God calls upon us to return to Him with all our hearts, with fasting, weeping and mourning. We are told to split apart our hearts, not our clothing.
In the days of the Old Testament, many tore their clothing as a sign of repentance. But, while some tore their clothing, this was an exterior sign; there was no true repentance. Their hearts of stone had not changed! They had not let go of their worldly ways to embrace holy ways. To practice sincere repentance, the Lord God tells us to change our hearts. We are called to examine our most inner self, those evil ways that we have to let go, once and for always.
We must always remember that the Lord God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not punish us if we are sincere and turn away from our sins. God is not a God of punishment but a God of love to those who strive earnestly to walk in His righteous ways.
As the first reading reminded us, our sanctification in the likeness of Christ is not for just a few people. It is for all those who have placed their faith in Christ on the day that they received the Sacrament of Baptism. We are told to assemble the aged, to gather the children, and even the breast fed infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her canopy. This is a very powerful command that includes everyone, of all ages!
This is the time when the ministers of the Church beg the Lord, asking Him on behalf of the people, to show His mercy upon them. This is the time when the ministers of the Church remind the Lord of His promises made to Abraham, our spiritual father, that we will inherit the promised land, the eternal Kingdom of God. The practice of reminding the Lord God of His promises is to draw His pity upon us who are weak sinners. It is so He will not forget us. It is also to ensure that He will not be mocked by those who say, 'Where is your God?' For our Lord God keeps His promises. He will save those who walk in righteousness in daily communion with Him.
During today's Second Reading from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, we heard St. Paul appealing to us on behalf of Jesus to be reconciled to God.
God the Father sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us on the cross. He who was without sin took our place and was treated as a sinner, so we might become righteous in the eyes of God. What a horrible death we deserved, a death that Christ endured for us in Divine love.
The Lord God reminds us that He heard our cries that were raised to Heaven. He has helped us to secure our salvation. Now is the time for us to show our appreciation to the Lord God by walking in His righteousness so we may inherit the salvation that we have asked of Him and which He is granting to us through His infinite love and mercy.
How do we walk in righteousness? Jesus answered that question during today's Reading from the Gospel of Matthew. It is not by continuing in our worldly ways. It is by embracing a spiritual mind so we may mature in Christ by the grace of God the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus warns us against hypocrisy, those who are pious so they may be seen by others. They have received their rewards through those who admired them and praised them for it. For them, there is no reward from God the Father in Heaven. During the Lenten Season, our piety must manifest private time between the Lord God and ourselves. We must experience a transformation of our whole being beyond going to Church. We must walk with Christ in our lives every minute of the day, from the time we rise in the morning until the time we go to bed at night.
Equally, when you sacrifice by giving to the Church or by reaching out to someone in need, your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing. Do it privately and then forget about it. If you give a larger contribution to the Church so you can receive a larger Tax Deductible Receipt at the end of the calendar year, then your right hand knows what your left hand is doing. Your right hand is giving and your left hand is waiting to receive its benefit.
If you decide to increase your time of prayer during the Lenten Season, do not do it at the Church during the busy hours so others will see you. In such a manner, you will receive your reward on earth by those who will praise you for your piety. Rather, go into your bedroom, close the door and pray to God the Father in private so the Heavenly Father may see you in private and reward you accordingly.
If you decide to fast, do not overdo it to the extent that you look weak and sick so the others will notice that you are fasting. Fast to the degree that you can manage, always being cheerful and looking healthy so no one but God will know that you are fasting. Then, God the Father will reward you.
Be reconciled to God! These are the guidelines that the Church has received from God so the faithful may experience true repentance in order to receive Divine mercy and forgiveness.
As you enter the Lenten Season, remember these words every day! Practise them! And I assure you that God shall reward you!
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[The readings were taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (C) 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the United States of America.]
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"'Even now,' says the Lord, 'return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.'
Who knows whether the Lord will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him; a grain offering and a drink offering to be presented to the Lord, your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, 'Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'
Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people." [Joel. 2:12-8]
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"Brothers and sisers: We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For the Lord says, 'At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.' See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!" [2 Cor. 5:20-6:2]
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Jesus said to the disciples, 'Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrite; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on our head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.'" [Mt. 6:1-6, 16-8]
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