March 1, 2019

Ash Wednesday (March 6, 2019)

ASH WEDNESDAY (March 6) One-page summary of the homily (L/19)

Introduction: Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum) is the Church’s Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement.” Its very name comes from the Jewish practice of doing penance wearing “sackcloth and ashes.” The Old Testament tells us how the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5), King Ben Hadad of Syria (1 Kg 20:31-34), and Queen Esther (4:16) fasted wearing sackcloth and ashes. In the early Church, Christians who had committed serious sins were instructed to do public penance wearing sackcloth and ashes. The Church instructs us to observe Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season. The prophet Joel, in the first reading, insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart and not simply regret for our sins. In Psalm 51, our Responsorial Psalm today, the Psalmist acknowledges his sin and begs God for His Mercy. Saint Paul, in the second reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.” Today’s Gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of fasting and prayer.

The blessing of the ashes and the significance of the day: The priest dipping his thumb into ashes (collected from burnt palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each with the sign of the cross, saying the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church reminds us a) that our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and b) that our life-span is very brief and unpredictable; 2- a strong warning that we will be eternally punished if we do not repent of our sins, become reconciled with God, asking His pardon and forgiveness, and do penance; and 3- a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition, return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance as the prodigal son did and ask Him for the renewal of our life.

Ash Wednesday messages: # 1: We need to purify and renew our lives during the period of Lent by repentance, which means expressing sorrow for sins by turning away from occasions of sins and returning to God. We need to express our repentance by being reconciled with God daily, by asking for forgiveness from those whom we have offended and by giving unconditional forgiveness to those who have offended us. # 2: We need to do prayerful fasting and little acts of penance for our sins and share our blessings generously with others, following the example of 40 days of fasting and prayer by Jesus before his public ministry. Fasting reduces our “spiritual obesity” or the excessive accumulation of “fat” in our soul in the form of evil tendencies, evil habits and evil addictions. It also gives us additional moral and spiritual strength and encourages us to share our blessings with the needy. (L/19)

Full text: ASH WEDNESDAY (March 6) Jl 2:12-18; II Cor 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Introduction: Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum) is the Church’s Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement.” Its very name comes from the Jewish practice of doing penance wearing “sackcloth and ashes.” In the early Church, Christians who had committed serious sins were instructed to do public penance wearing sackcloth and ashes. This custom was introduced by Pope Gregory I (served September 3, 590 to March 12, 604; McBrien, Lives of the Popes, p. 96), and it was enacted as a universal practice in all of Western Christendom by the Synod of Benevento (AD 1091). Since the 11th century, receiving ashes on the first day of Lent has been a universal Christian practice. It was Pope Urban II who in the 11th century recommended that all Catholics take part in the practice of receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday. In the 12th century it became customary that the ashes used on Ash Wednesday were made by burning the previous year’s palm branches.

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season. The prophet Joel, in the first reading, insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart and not simply sorrow for our sins. In Psalm 51, our Responsorial Psalm today, the Psalmist begs God for Mercy, acknowledges his sin, expresses his repentance and begs for a “clean heart: and a “steadfast spirit” with which to live a changed life and persevere in it. Saint Paul, in the second reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.” Today’s Gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of fasting and prayer. According to the Bible scholar Dr. Watson, it is one of the great ironies of our
Faith that, on this day that seems so negative and so focused on death and sin, more people come to Church than on almost any day of the year, except Christmas and Easter. The reason probably is that today, we are all equally humbled before God, accepting the Lenten message: ‘Repent, believe the Good News, turn away from your sins and turn back to Jesus Christ.’

The blessing of the ashes and its significance: The priest dipping his thumb into ashes (collected from burnt palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each with the sign of the cross, saying the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church gives us:

1- a firm conviction that a) we are mortal beings, b) our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and c) our life-span is very brief and unpredictable;

2- a strong warning that we will be eternally punished if we do not repent of our sins and do penance; and

3- a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition and return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance as the prodigal son did.

Ash Wednesday messages: We are invited to produce a real conversion and renewal of life during the period of Lent by fasting, penance, reconciliation and generous sharing.

I- We are to spent time in prayer, talking to God and listening to Him.

Prayer helps us to turn our attention to God and turn away from what keeps us from God.
When we pray, we listen to the Good News God whispers to us in mental prayer or through meditation on the Bible or in the Rosary.
By increasing the quality and the quantity of our prayer, we get strength to fight against our temptations and grow in intimacy or relationship with God. Our prayer life can be enhanced during Lent by participating in the daily Mass, by making the Stations of the Cross, and by reading the Holy Bible every day, applying the message to our lives.

II- We are to fast:

a) by following the example of Jesus before his public ministry, and b) by imitating the king and the people of Nineveh (Jon 3:7), who fasted in sackcloth pleading for mercy from the Lord God; the Syrian King, Ben Hadad (I Kgs 20:31-34), who did not fast, but wore sackcloth and begged Israel’s King Ahab for his life); Queen Esther who fasted, put ashes and dirt on her head and wore “garments of distress” instead of her royal robes, begging God to save her people (Est 4:16); the soldiers of Judas Maccabaeus who fasted so greatly they felt too weak to fight (1 Mc 3:17); and St. Paul who observed “frequent fastings” (2 Cor 11:27).

(Historical note: In the past, the Greek Orthodox Christians had 180 days of fasting and the Orthodox as well as Catholic Syrian Christians had 225 to 290 days of fasting every year. The Roman Church also had a number of fast days. Technically speaking, fasting is now only required on two days, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday in Lent. In the United States, in addition, abstinence alone is commanded on all Fridays of Lent).

Biblical Fasting: True fasting is “tearing one’s heart and returning to God” with true repentance for one’s sins (Jl 2:13). It is “breaking unjust fetters, freeing the oppressed, sharing one’s bread with the hungry, clothing with the naked and home with the homeless, and not turning away from the needy relatives” (Is 58:6-7). Fasting allows us to subordinate our bodily desires and needs to those of our soul. It allows us to control our desires rather than let them control us. By fasting we learn to control a desire that is necessary for survival (eating), and control desires for things that they don’t really need to survive, like drugs, sex or booze. Following the Biblical instruction, let us fast not only from food, but also from foul and dirty language, judging others, gossiping, and verbal negatives.

Advantages of fasting: i) – It reduces the excessive accumulation of “fat” in our soul in the form of evil tendencies and evil habits (=spiritual obesity).

ii) – It gives us additional moral and spiritual strength.

iii) – It offers us more time to be with God in prayer.

iv) – It encourages us to share our food and goods with the needy.

v) – “There is joy in the salutary fasting and abstinence of Christians who eat and drink less in order that their minds may be clearer and more receptive to receive the sacred nourishment of God’s word, which the whole Church announces and meditates upon in each day’s liturgy throughout Lent” (Thomas Merton).

III – We are to lead a life of penance because:

1 – It is the model given by Jesus.

2 – It was his teaching: “If any one wishes to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” and “Try to enter through the narrow gate.”

3 – Theological reasons: a) it removes the weakness left by sin in our souls, b) it pays the temporary debt caused by sin, and c) it makes our prayers more fruitful.

IV – We are to enlarge our hearts for reconciliation.

By receiving the ashes, we confess that we are sinners in need of the mercy of God, and we ask forgiveness for the various ways in which we have hurt our brothers and sisters. In the very recent past, our Catholic community has again experienced acute suffering caused by the scandalous behavior of a few of our spiritual leaders. Lent is a time for forgiveness and reconciliation. “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation!” Let us allow the spirit of forgiveness to work its healing influence in our parishes and families.

V- We must share our blessings generously and sacrificially with others by alms giving: Jesus, who gave everything down to his last drop of blood, tells us to follow him, by giving of ourselves, our time, our talents, and our money generously. By Almsgiving, we highlight others as being more important than ourselves and give ourselves to them as Jesus gave Himself to others. Pope Leo XIII said, “Once the demands of necessity and propriety have been met, the rest of your money belongs to the poor.” St. John Chrysostom said—and St. Ambrose echoed him—”For the man who has two shirts in his closet, one belongs to him; the other belongs to the man who has no shirt.”

Pope Francis’ Ash Wednesday message summarized (March 2017): Lent, the Holy Father reminded, is the time for saying no. “No to the spiritual asphyxia born of the pollution caused by indifference, by thinking that other people’s lives are not my concern, and by every attempt to trivialize life, especially the lives of those whose flesh is burdened by so much superficiality. Lent means saying no to the toxic pollution of empty and meaningless words, of harsh and hasty criticism, of simplistic analyses that fail to grasp the complexity of problems, especially the problems of those who suffer the most. “Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good. Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia born of relationships that exclude, that try to find God while avoiding the wounds of Christ present in the wounds of his brothers and sisters: in a word, all those forms of spirituality that reduce the faith to a ghetto culture, a culture of exclusion.” Time to Remember:

Lent, he added, is a time for remembering, and asking ourselves what we would be if God had closed his doors to us. “What would we be without his mercy that never tires of forgiving us and always gives us the chance to begin anew? “It is a time to set aside everything that isolates us, encloses us and paralyzes us.” Pope Francis concluded, noting, “Lent is a time of compassion”

Ash Wednesday anecdotes: (“Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Consequently, stories often pack more punch than sermons. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story. Jesus did it. He called his stories ‘parables.'”(Janet Litherland, Storytelling from the Bible). In fact Mark 4:34 says, “he [Jesus] did not speak to them without a parable…”Visit the article: Picturing the Kingdom of God by Fr. Brian Cavanaugh, TOR: http://www.appleseeds.org/picture.htm).

1) Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign? Some of the senior citizens here today can remember a song that was popular exactly 48 years ago this year.  In 1971, a group from Canada called the Five Man Electrical Band had a hit called Signs.” The song is about how signs are always telling us what to do, and the chorus says, “Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” Almost five decades later, the question it poses – “Can’t you read the sign?” — is one we might ask ourselves today. We are going to be signed with ash in the sign of our Faith, the cross. “Can’t you read the sign?” The cross of ashes means that we are making a commitment – that we are undertaking Lent as a season of prayer and penitence, of dying to ourselves. It also describes our human condition: it says that we are broken and need repair; that we are sinners and need redemption. Most importantly, it tells us that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to carry our crosses. It also reminds us that we are dust and ashes – mortal human beings carrying an immortal soul. (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/)

2) The Potato Salad Promise: Tony Campolo tells about a Church that one day every year celebrates student recognition day. One year, after several students had spoken quite eloquently, the pastor started his sermon in a striking way: “Young people, you may not think you’re going to die, but you are. One of these days, they’ll take you to the cemetery, drop you in a hole, throw some dirt on your face and go back to the Church and eat potato salad.” We may not like to acknowledge it, but someday, every one of us will have to face the “potato salad promise”, that we will all die. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…..”

3) Kill the Cyclops in you: The Cyclops is that strange monster of Greek mythology with one big eye in the middle of its forehead. We pretend to ignore the truth that, for 325 days of each year, we are all Cyclopes because there is ONE GREAT BIG “I” right in the middle of our heads! If we are skeptical about this assertion, we might watch our words for one day, from morning to night. What’s the first thing we think about each morning? “What am I going to do today? How will I do it? What will happen to me today? How will I feel today?” I, I, I. And all day long, what do we say to people? We say things like, “I think this” and “I think that” and “I agree” and “I disagree” and “I like this” and “I don’t like that” and “I just want to say…”  I, I, I. And what’s the last thing that we think about at night? “I wish that so-and-so would stop doing thus-and-such to me” and “I really did a good job today” and “I wonder what I’ll do tomorrow.”  The problem with seeing with one eye is that we’re half blind. Everything looks flat and two-dimensional because with only one eye, we have no depth-perception. Consequently, we go wrong in assessing people. In Greek mythology, the Cyclops was killed when Odysseus and four of his men took a spare staff of the Cyclops, hardened its tip in the fire and used that to destroy the monster’s one big eye. It is precisely this that we must do on Ash Wednesday. With two strokes of his thumb smeared with ash on our forehead, the priest will cross that “I” out of our head. By this sacramental ritual we are asked to take that “I” at the front of our mind and cross it out by “self-denial” and “self- mortification.” Doing so will help us to see the beautiful creatures of God all around us and replace “I” with “You.”  (Condensed from Fr. J. K. Horn)

0028dCyclopes                                                                    cross-3 

4) A living children’s sermon: The Rev. Timothy J. Kennedy tells a wonderful true story that is perfect for Ash Wednesday. It was told to him by a colleague, Pastor Chris Mietlowski. It concerned a Baptism that Mietlowski once performed on an infant named Eric. During the Baptism, Mietlowski traced the cross of Christ on Eric’s forehead using the oil of catechumens. Following ceremony, Eric’s family celebrated the occasion with a big backyard party. Family and friends ate burgers and chips and played volleyball under a summer sun. Eric, being only six months old, was left to nap in his backyard stroller. When Mom got him up, whoops! Basted on Eric’s forehead was the image of the cross. Mom had forgotten to wash Eric’s forehead following his Baptism, and the oil that the pastor had traced onto his forehead acted the opposite of a sun-screen. The Cross of Christ was imprinted on Eric’s forehead as a sunburn. Eric’s Mom and Dad had to explain the cross to the pediatrician, to the neighbors, to the stranger in the grocery store. For a few weeks, Eric was nothing less than a [living] children’s sermon. It was only a bit of a sunburn to be sure, but [it was] the best “basting” a child can have to be marked with the cross.

5) Nail post: As a preparation for Lent, a father wanted his son to really understand the importance of making right choices, of obeying and doing what’s right. And so if his son made a bad choice or a wrong decision, he’d give him a hammer and a nail to take out into the backyard and pound into a fence post. Every day the son went through the whole day making good decisions, he’d let the boy go out and take out one of those nails. Until the boy was fifteen, there were always two or three nails in the post, -seemed he’d be nailing new ones as often as he’d pull out others. The youth started to mature and make better decisions and finally one day all the nails were removed from the post. That was when his dad took him back and said, “I want you to notice something about the post.” The son looked at the post for a moment and realized that all the nails that once were driven in and then later removed had left small holes in the post. The holes were the remaining effects of the nails. His dad said,” I want to tell you something son, about bad choices and decisions. Even though you may be totally forgiven from your bad choices or decisions, and there are no nails visible, there are the remaining effects, the consequences, of those choices or decisions; just like the holes in that fencepost.”

6) Find someone in need: Dr. Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist, once gave a lecture on mental health, and then answered questions from the audience. “What would you advise a person to do,” asked one man, “if that person felt a nervous breakdown was coming on?” Most people expected him to reply, “Consult a psychiatrist.” To their disappointment he replied, “Lock your house, go across the railway tracks, find someone in need and do something to help that person.” -Don’t sit and pout. Get up and do something for others! (Brian Cavanaugh in The Sower’s Seeds).

7) Why are you late to return from school? Ronald Levy, a first grader in Philadelphia, was told to come home directly from school, but he was late almost every day. The difference was as much as 20 minutes. His mother asked him: “Why is it that the schools ends each day at the same time, and you get home so much later?” He replied: “It depends on the cars.” “What do the cars have to do with it?” “Well,” he said, “The Patrol boy was told to stop the cars, so we can cross the road. Sometimes we have to wait for a long time for there to be cars so he can stop them for us!” Lent is the period where God invites us to stop the ‘cars’, so God can get more focus and attention in our lives.

FASTING AND ABSTINENCE FOR LENT

1. Everyone 14 years of age or older is bound to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays in Lent, including GOOD FRIDAY.

2. Everyone 18 years of age and under 60 years of age is bound to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

3. On these two days of fast and abstinence only one full meatless meal is allowed. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to each one’s needs, but together they should not equal one full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted on these two days, but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige.

4. To disregard completely the law of fast and abstinence is a serious matter.

5. Going to Mass every Sunday, doing acts of charity, forgiveness, and good deeds of virtue are obligations of daily life of Catholics especially during Lent.

Video- websites of the week:

Episcopalian virtual video on Ash Wednesday: https://youtu.be/WIEf9G2Wmho

Fr. Barron’s Ash Wednesday reflections: https://youtu.be/hPTcMWpHfKk

Karlo Broussard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KO-EpdMUqa0

Dr. Petre: https://youtu.be/2vnGEJHg05E

Lenten reflections: 1) https://youtu.be/MOstFC5QZyc 2) https://youtu.be/AHzG3ocLaj4

Giving up for Lent: 1) https://youtu.be/I8aWqjpuJLQ 2) https://youtu.be/zoI0qbaoq9U

History of Lent: https://youtu.be/W7dRA13BnPM

Catholic joke: http://www.kappit.com/img/pics/201311_2233_gfgeg.jpg

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Fr. A. Kadavil, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, Al 36604

Give Up

GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, “In everything give thanks.” Constructive criticism is OK, but “moaning, groaning, and complaining” are not Christian disciplines.

GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion.

GIVE UP looking at other people’s worst points. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.

GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. Why not check that sharp tongue at the door?

GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. “Love covers a multitude of sins.”

GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about, like tomorrow! Live today and let God’s grace be sufficient.

GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit some lonely or sick person. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the “tube?” Give someone a precious gift: your time!

GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God’s riches, not consumers.

GIVE UP judging by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ. (Craig Gates, Jackson, MS, “What to Give up for Lent”)

“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No 16) by Fr. Tony: akadavil@gmail.com

Jewish public confession of personal and communal sins on Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement” (Ash Wednesday is Church’s Yom Kippur)

“What shall we say before You, You who dwell on high and what shall we declare before You, You who abide in the heavens? Do You not know all things already, both the hidden and the revealed? You know the mysteries of the universe and the hidden secrets of all living. You search out the heart of man and probe all our thoughts and aspirations. Naught escapes You, neither is anything concealed from Your sight. May it therefore be Your will, O L-rd, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, to forgive us all our sins, to pardon all our iniquities, and to grant us atonement for all our transgressions.

  1. For the sin which we have committed before You under compulsion or of our own will,
  2. And for the sin which we have committed before You by hardening our hearts;
  3. For the sin which we have committed before You unknowingly,
  4. And for the sin which we have committed before You with utterance of the lips;
  5. For the sin which we have committed before You by unchastity,
  6. And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly;
  7. For the sin which we have committed before You knowingly and deceitfully,
  8. And for the sin which we have committed before You in speech;
  9. For the sin which we have committed before You by wronging our neighbor,
  10. And for the sin which we have committed before You by sinful meditation of the heart;
  11. For the sin which we have committed before You by association with impurity,
  12. And for the sin which we have committed before You by confession of the lips;
  13. For the sin which we have committed before You by spurning parents and teachers,
  14. And for the sin which we have committed before You in presumption or in error;
  15. For the sin which we have committed before You by violence,
  16. And for the sin which we have committed before You by the profanation of Your name;
  17. For the sin which we have committed before You by unclean lips,
  18. And for the sin which we have committed before You by impure speech;
  19. For the sin which we have committed before You by the evil inclination,
  20. And for the sin which we have committed before You wittingly or unwittingly; (For all these, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement))
  21. For the sin which we have committed before You by denying and lying,
  22. And for the sin which we have committed before You by bribery;
  23. For the sin which we have committed before You by scoffing,
  24. And for the sin which we have committed before You by slander;
  25. For the sin which we have committed before You in commerce,
  26. And for the sin which we have committed before You in eating and drinking;
  27. For the sin which we have committed before You by demanding usurious interest,
  28. And for the sin which we have committed before You by stretching forth the neck in pride;
  29. For the sin which we have committed before You by idle gossip,
  30. And for the sin which we have committed before You with wanton looks;
  31. For the sin which we have committed before You with haughty eyes,
  32. And for the sin which we have committed before You by effrontery; (For all these, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement).
  33. For the sin which we have committed before You by casting off the yoke of Your commandments
  34. And for the sin which we have committed before You by contentiousness;
  35. For the sin which we have committed before You by ensnaring our neighbor,
  36. And for the sin which we have committed before You by envy;
  37. For the sin which we have committed before You by levity,
  38. And for the sin which we have committed before You by being stiff-necked;
  39. For the sin which we have committed before You by running to do evil,
  40. And for the sin which we have committed before You by tale-bearing;
  41. For the sin which we have committed before You by vain oaths,
  42. And for the sin which we have committed before You by causeless hatred;
  43. For the sin which we have committed before You by breach of trust,
  44. And for the sin which we have committed before You with confusion of mind; (For all these, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement). L/19

Visit this website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for missed homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at akadavil@gmail.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.

Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604, U. S. A.