ASH WEDNESDAY ON FEBRUARY 26, 2020 YEAR A (R1: Joel 2:12 – 18; Ps. 51: 3 – 6B, 12 – 14, 17; R2: 2Corinthians 5: 20- 6: 2; Gospel. Matt. 6: 1- 6, 16- 18)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
DID YOU GET THE TEXT MESSAGE?
Just very recently, God called a meeting of all the angels in heaven. The main reason for the meeting was to find out how human beings were behaving on earth. The angels presented their reports, which revealed that there was a terrific increase in sin and bad stuff in the world, that 95 percent of the people on earth were sinners. Angel Gabriel, at the meeting, suggested the need for God to give some encouragement to the five percent who were still behaving well and keeping all the commandments. So God sent a text message to the 5 percent; and do you know what the text says? Oh, none of you got the text message? Unfortunately, I did not get one either.
And that is why we are all gathered here today. You may call this gathering, an executive meeting of those who did not get the text message. In case you are here, and you are part of the 5 percent, the perfect people who got the text message, you may now excuse us, because you are not qualified to be a part of this meeting.
Today we begin a spiritual journey of 40 days; today, we begin the season of Lent. The season of Lent begins with a Wednesday that has a unique adjective, namely “Ash,” and so it is called “Ash Wednesday.” This Wednesday takes its name from the Ashes we shall use today to mark the sign of the cross on our foreheads.
People in Old Testament times used ashes in a variety of religious ways. One of the examples is in Job 42:6, which mentions the custom of sprinkling ashes on oneself as a sign of repentance. Jesus refers to this practice in Matthew 11:21 when he says, “If the miracles which were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, the people there would have long ago put on sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on themselves, to show that they had turned from their sins.”
Today, we shall use ashes to mark the sign of the cross on our foreheads for two reasons, which are contained in the words that will be used by the priest or the extraordinary minister that will impose the ashes. The first option is, “Repent, and be faithful to the Gospel,” while the second option is, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.”
From these, we can say that the ashes are, first, a sign of repentance. They indicate that we are sorry for our sins and will do penance for them during Lent. Secondly, ashes are a sign of our mortality. They indicate that we will die someday and will have to give an account of our lives to God. To understand this second sign, we can go back to Genesis 3: 17, 19, when right after Adam and Eve sinned, God said to them, “Because of what you have done… you [will] go back to the soil from which you were formed. You were made from soil [dust], and you will become soil [dust] again.”
As you walk around today, carrying your ashes on your foreheads, people are going to wonder what kind of makeup you are wearing. (Someone once described Ash Wednesday as “World Day of Free Catholic Tatoo.”) When they ask you why you are wearing the ashes on your foreheads, tell them, “It is because I did not get the text message.” And if they ask which text message, tell them the story I told you at the beginning of this homily. Tell them you are not part of the 5 percent that got the text message from God, and that you want to be part of them the next time God sends a text message. Tell them that the ashes remind you of how you screwed up (messed up), while the cross reminds you of how Jesus came to clean up the mess. Tell them that you intend to use this season of Lent to connect to the fruit of the clean-up that Jesus has done. Tell them that the cross reminds you of the letter “I” that must be crossed. The cross is made up of two parts: the vertical component, which is like the letter “I,” and the horizontal component, which crosses, minuses, or cancels the “I.” So, the season of Lent is a time to think less of “I” and think more of God and others. A time of self-denial. We fast so we may be less selfish and more generous. The fast for this season is not for physical weight loss; it is for spiritual growth; it is for growth in our relationship with God and one another. From my fast, I need to help those who are hungry.
In Matthew 16: 25, Jesus says, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” What you keep you lose, what you share you gain. Think of something as simple as a smile. You decide not to share your smile, whenever you want to smile, you go the bathroom, lock yourself up, you look at the mirror and smile to yourself, and when you come out, you begin to frown like you are against the whole world and the world as a whole is against you; what a miserable life! But when you give a single smile to so many people, they will multiply it and give back to you, and you will be all the happier for it.
A change of attitude can be as simple as not thinking the worst of others. Maybe while driving, someone cuts in front of you, instead of thinking that they are just crazy drivers, you may say to yourself, “Maybe that driver has a stomach ache, and they need to rush to the nearest bathroom, God, please, help them find one before something happens in that car now.” With this, you have converted a moment of sin to a moment of prayer. The cross reminds us of the work of reconciliation that Jesus came to do, the vertical and horizontal reconciliation, that between God and us, and among ourselves. If you fast during this season and you are not in talking terms with your family or neighbors, you are not fasting; you are just starving yourself.
Yes, I want to be one of those who will get the next text message from God, and I would like you to be one too. Let us step up our game then, pray more as individuals and family, and become more active in our various Churches. May the Holy Spirit accompany us through this journey that we may share in the glory of the Resurrection, through Christ our Lord. Amen.