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We are to ask God to forgive us our sins – not to bless them

Archbishop Wenski's homily on Ash Wednesday 2021

A woman prays during the Ash Wednesday Mass celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at Miami's historic Gesu Church, Feb. 17, 2021.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

A woman prays during the Ash Wednesday Mass celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at Miami's historic Gesu Church, Feb. 17, 2021.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily while celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass at Gesu Church in Miami, Feb. 17, 2021.

We begin the 40 days of our Lenten journey and we hear again the words with which Jesus began his public ministry: “Repent and be faithful to the Gospel.” This repentance, this conversion of heart and mind, is a necessary prelude for us to experience the Easter joy of Jesus’ resurrection, when we will all renew our baptismal promises to reject Satan, turn away from sin and live as children of God.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preaches his homily while celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass at Miami's historic Gesu Church, Feb. 17, 2021.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preaches his homily while celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass at Miami's historic Gesu Church, Feb. 17, 2021.

To renew our baptismal promises as we will do on Easter Sunday, then, means to recommit ourselves to that seeking for holiness which should be what our life in Christ means for us as Christians, as Catholics. If we seek holiness, as Pope Saint John Paul II reminded us, then “it would be a contradiction for us to settle for a life of mediocrity marked by a minimalist ethic and a superficial religiosity.”

Through the special tasks of our Lenten observance, that is through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we are to work on resolving “those contradictions” in our life that divert us from the pursuit of holiness. In other words, as Catholic Christians, our task is not for us to change the Gospel, to seek ways in which we can accommodate its demands with the compromises that living comfortably in the culture around us would impose upon us. No, our task is to allow the Gospel — and its demands — to change us. We are to ask God to forgive us our sins – not to bless them.

So, the next 40 days should have us all engaged in one way or another in those special Lenten observances: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three tasks are like the legs of a three-legged stool: Our Lenten observance must stand on all three. We must pray — for any relationship can only grow through communication. Our friendship with God will grow cold if we don’t talk to him in the dialog that is prayer. We must fast — for before we can say “yes” to anything or anyone, we must be able to say “no” to ourselves, otherwise our appetites will overcome all our good intentions. And we must give alms. Almsgiving is a specific way to help the needy — it is also a means of self-denial, freeing us from attachment to worldly goods. We are not owners but only stewards, administrators, of the goods we possess.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul exhorts us: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Be reconciled to God! St. Paul’s plea is for a personal reconciliation – but, speaking as an ambassador for Christ, he is also exhorting us to be reconciled, as he said, “through us,” that is through the representatives of the Church. Lent is a season of grace and salvation. And therefore, it is “the favorable time” for each Catholic to rediscover once again the Sacrament of Penance.

The Sacrament of Penance remains “the ordinary way of obtaining forgiveness and the remission of serious sins committed after baptism.” And since Lent is designed with the renewal of baptismal promises in mind, a good confession should be a part of every Catholic’s Lenten observance.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski imposes ashes on the faithful during Ash Wednesday Mass at Miami's historic Gesu Church, Feb. 17, 2021.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Archbishop Thomas Wenski imposes ashes on the faithful during Ash Wednesday Mass at Miami's historic Gesu Church, Feb. 17, 2021.

Today, we begin our Lenten journey. Last year, during Lent, we experienced the disruption of a global pandemic. Fasting then took an unexpected turn – as most of the faithful had to “fast” from Holy Communion because of the lock down in the early months of the pandemic. Thankfully, since Pentecost Sunday we have been celebrating Masses with congregations present while following the necessary precautions of social distancing, wearing masks, etc. This Lent still finds us dealing with the pandemic – and many for health reasons or because of advanced age cannot yet leave their homes to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church. We pray also for them, the homebound. 

As we begin our Lenten journey, let us look intently at Christ pierced on the cross. It is on the cross, in his “yes” to his Father, that Jesus reveals to us in all its fullness the power of our heavenly Father’s mercy and love. His cross — and our willingness to take up our own crosses daily to follow him — remains the only way for us to enter into the mystery of this mercy and love — for it is only through Him, with Him and in Him, thanks to the water and blood that flowed from his side, that we are reconciled and our sins forgiven.

Hoy comenzamos nuestra jornada cuaresmal – una jornada que nos lleva de nuevo a la conversión de nuestra mente y de nuestro corazón, simbolizada por nuestra renovación de las promesas bautismales el domingo de Pascua. Al comenzar, recibimos la ceniza como signo de nuestra disposición a abrazar la verdadera forma de vida que nos presentan los Evangelios. Y cuando recibimos la ceniza, escuchamos de nuevo las primeras palabras de Jesús dichas en el Evangelio de Marcos: “Arrepiéntanse y crean en el Evangelio”.

May the ashes be a gentle reminder of the shortness of this life and be at the same time a sign for us of our willingness to embrace the true way of life presented to us in the Gospel. “Repent and be faithful to the Gospel.”

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