Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during the Ash Wednesday Mass he celebrated Feb. 14, 2018, at St. Anthony Church in Fort Lauderdale.
Our Lenten journey begins today: We hear again the first words of Jesus spoken in Mark’s Gospel: “Repent and be faithful to the Gospel.” This is a necessary prelude to the joy of Easter Sunday when we will all renew our baptismal promises to reject Satan, turn away from sin and live as children of God.
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.
So the next 40 days should have us all engaged in one way or another in these 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.
For some, confession remains a difficult sacrament, like going to the dentist. However, if we sincerely undertake the tasks of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we can overcome whatever shame or fear that might keep us away from this experience of God’s mercy. God loves us – and in his love, he offers us the possibility of being forgiven. Our prayer, fasting and almsgiving this Lent can help dispose us to receive such a gift.
Today, we begin our Lenten journey. Throughout this 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 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.
We receive the ashes on our foreheads and are marked with the sign of the cross. 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. When we receive the ashes, we hear again those words of Jesus: “Repent and be faithful to the Gospel.”