Papa Francisco Santa Sabina Lent Ash

Ash Wednesday

(Homily on word.op.org, 14 February 2018)

Gospel reading: 6:1-6,16-18

‘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 hypocrites; 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 your 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.

 

What is Ash Wednesday about? Some of us will have the sign of the Cross in ash on our foreheads, or have ash sprinkled on top of our heads; we’ll all hear the admonition to “Repent”, and we’ll begin a forty-day period of some sort of renunciation, probably not very heroic: we’ll give up chocolate, or a glass of wine with the evening meal, or Facebook! And the chances are that we’ll tell people: “Oh no, no wine (or coffee, or whatever) for me, I’ve given it up for Lent” – and right there we undo at least some of the good our Lenten sacrifice is supposed to do us… because Jesus insists in this passage on what nowadays we’d call keeping a low profile: not trumpeting about our charity, not making a show of prayer, not looking dismal (what a lovely word in this context!) when we’re fasting. Maybe we need to be more imaginative about what we give up: for me, it might be not avoiding people who drive me up the wall but being as patient and cordial to them as I am to the people I love. Now that would be a real sacrifice!

And then there’s that word “Repent”. It looks back – because you repent of what you did – rather than forward, and that’s a pity. Lent should be pointing us forward, towards the future, towards Easter, towards the Resurrection. In Italian (I live in Italy), the priest says “Convertiti”, be converted: change radically; and that looks towards the future. Don’t you find that helpful?

And finally, ash. It’s what is left after something has been completely consumed by fire, and we think of it as empty, barren, just grey dust. Yet life is not obliterated by ash. In John Hersey’s long essay on Hiroshima, originally published in 1946, he wrote this about what a young Japanese woman saw on 9 September 1945, just over a month after the bomb had destroyed the city:

         Over everything—up through the wreckage of the city, in gutters, along the riverbanks, tangled among tiles and tin roofing, climbing on charred tree trunks—was a blanket of fresh, vivid, lush, optimistic green; the verdancy rose even from the foundations of ruined houses. Weeds already hid the ashes, and wild flowers were in bloom among the city’s bones. The bomb had not only left the underground organs of plants intact; it had stimulated them.

This is what today’s ash should do for us: it should stimulate the growth of simple, unsophisticated flowers – selflessness, generosity, shared hope, shared joy, shared love. The glowing evidence of living faith. We can’t all achieve the heroism of the martyrs, but we can flower, we can blossom, and those flowers will be the loveliest decoration of our altars at the Easter Vigil.

 

Ash Wednesdayhttp://www.fraternitiesop.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Papa-Francisco-Santa-Sabina.jpghttp://www.fraternitiesop.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Papa-Francisco-Santa-Sabina-150x150.jpgRuth Anne HendersonEnglishSliderSpirituality,
(Homily on word.op.org, 14 February 2018) Gospel reading: 6:1-6,16-18 ‘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...
<em>(<a href="https://word.op.org/2018/02/14/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Homily on word.op.org</a>, 14 February 2018)</em> <strong>Gospel reading: 6:1-6,16-18</strong> ‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no <em>reward from your Father in heaven.</em> <em>‘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.</em> <em> ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; 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.</em> <em> ‘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 your 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.</em> <em> </em> What is Ash Wednesday about? Some of us will have the sign of the Cross in ash on our foreheads, or have ash sprinkled on top of our heads; we’ll all hear the admonition to “Repent”, and we’ll begin a forty-day period of some sort of renunciation, probably not very heroic: we’ll give up chocolate, or a glass of wine with the evening meal, or Facebook! And the chances are that we’ll tell people: “Oh no, no wine (or coffee, or whatever) for me, I’ve given it up for Lent” – and right there we undo at least some of the good our Lenten sacrifice is supposed to do us… because Jesus insists in this passage on what nowadays we’d call keeping a low profile: not trumpeting about our charity, not making a show of prayer, not looking dismal (what a lovely word in this context!) when we’re fasting. Maybe we need to be more imaginative about what we give up: for me, it might be not avoiding people who drive me up the wall but being as patient and cordial to them as I am to the people I love. Now that would be a real sacrifice! And then there’s that word “Repent”. It looks back – because you repent of what you did – rather than forward, and that’s a pity. Lent should be pointing us forward, towards the future, towards Easter, towards the Resurrection. In Italian (I live in Italy), the priest says “Convertiti”, be converted: change radically; and that looks towards the future. Don’t you find that helpful? And finally, ash. It’s what is left after something has been completely consumed by fire, and we think of it as empty, barren, just grey dust. Yet life is not obliterated by ash. In John Hersey’s long essay on Hiroshima, originally published in 1946, he wrote this about what a young Japanese woman saw on 9 September 1945, just over a month after the bomb had destroyed the city: <p style="padding-left: 30px;">         <span style="font-size: 10pt;">Over everything—up through the wreckage of the city, in gutters, along the riverbanks, tangled among tiles and tin roofing, climbing on charred tree trunks—was a blanket of fresh, vivid, lush, optimistic green; the verdancy rose even from the foundations of ruined houses. Weeds already hid the ashes, and wild flowers were in bloom among the city’s bones. The bomb had not only left the underground organs of plants intact; it had stimulated them.</span></p> This is what today’s ash should do for us: it should stimulate the growth of simple, unsophisticated flowers – selflessness, generosity, shared hope, shared joy, shared love. The glowing evidence of living faith. We can’t all achieve the heroism of the martyrs, but we can flower, we can blossom, and those flowers will be the loveliest decoration of our altars at the Easter Vigil.  

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3 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday”

  1. Thank you for this awesome message today. With God’s help those lines become very clear.

    Public CommentUserThank you for this awesome message today. With God’s help those lines become very clear.
  2. Thank you for the recommendation. We really appreciate your feedback.

    Public CommentUserThank you for the recommendation. We really appreciate your feedback.
  3. Archbishop Costelloe said the call to prayer, fasting and giving alms came from Jesus himself, adding that it should not be done for show. “Jesus talks about giving alms, about praying and about fasting.

    Public CommentUserArchbishop Costelloe said the call to prayer, fasting and giving alms came from Jesus himself, adding that it should not be done for show. “Jesus talks about giving alms, about praying and about fasting.

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