It was Valentine’s Day, Samantha spent the night partying. The next morning, she went to her mom and said, “Mom, why are men so unfaithful? Why can’t they just stick to one lady? You won’t believe what happened last night. At the party, I caught my boyfriend, Joe, dancing with another lady.” The mom asked, “Why did you let the lady dance with Joe? Were you not with Joe?” Samantha replied, “No, mom, I did not go to the party with Joe. I did not even know Joe was going to be at the party.” The mom further asked, “Why did you go to the party by yourself?” Samantha looked away and said, “Mom, I did not go by myself, I went with my other boyfriend.” So easy to find faults with others, but very difficult when it comes to finding the faults with ourselves.

            Johnson shared with his friend, “You won’t believe how evil people have become: last night at my shop, someone came to buy something with a counterfeit hundred dollar bill, fake note!” The friend reacted, “Really? I have never seen one. Could you bring it let me see what it looks like?” Johnson replied, “I no longer have it.” His friend asked further, “Did you destroy it?” Johnson replied, “No, I used it to buy a pair of shoes this morning.” So easy to find faults with others, but very difficult when it comes to finding the faults with ourselves.

            Through science and technology, we have been able to conquer miles, kilometers, in a short time. Distances that took us weeks to months in the past, we now cover in few hours, we even travel to space. In spite of our scientific and technological development, there is one journey we find very difficult to make; the journey inward. We find it easy to travel miles to investigate things and people, but very difficult to journey into ourselves to investigate ourselves. It is easy to see how other people are corrupt, but when it comes to us, we make up excuses.

            Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. We reflect on the mystery of the passion, suffering, death, and burial of Jesus. Today, we begin a journey of technically forty days with Jesus, who went to the desert to reflect, pray, and fast for forty days and forty nights. The quietness of the desert, the harshness of the desert, and the solitude of the desert, give us the privilege to make that difficult journey, the journey inward, the journey back to oneself.

Shortly after this homily, the priest, the deacon, or the extraordinary minister will impose the ashes on our foreheads, marking the sign of the cross. The cross is a sign of contradiction. The English word contradiction comes from two Latin words, contra and dicere. Contra means against, while dicere means to speak. So contradicere is to say or to speak against. To say the cross is a sign of contradiction, it is a way of saying that the cross speaks against the position of the world. In the cross, we have the vertical beam, which is contradicted by the horizontal beam. So, as we wear the cross on our foreheads today, we are telling the world, “I am not playing your game. I am not here to do it your way, but in the way of Christ. I am here to swim against the current.” The world does not like the inward journey. As Christians, we contradict the world by first examining ourselves instead of pointing accusing fingers at others. The season of Lent affords us the opportunity to journey into ourselves to bring out the better version of ourselves. It is possible that we tried in the past and failed. That is why Ash Wednesday comes every year so we can renew our commitment to swimming against the current in line with Jesus Christ.

As the priest, the deacon, or the extraordinary minister imposes the ashes on us, they will say, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” The other option is, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The words and the ashes remind us that we are beginning a journey of repentance, the journey of turning away from our sins, the journey of looking inward to bring out the better version of ourselves. The words and the ashes also remind us of our mortality. They indicate that we will die someday and will have to give an account of our lives to God.

During Lent, the Church equips us with three spiritual aids / religious acts mentioned in today’s Gospel passage, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Sometimes, we fail to observe this great season well because we go for goals that are so big, we feel overwhelmed, and after two days, we give up. We can take it bit by bit; baby steps. For prayer, if for example, you are a Sunday – Sunday Catholic, just add one more day, nothing more. If you don’t say private prayers at all, just decide to pray one Our Father, read just one chapter or few verses of the bible daily. May be you have a special commitment to your food, you can’t imagine skipping a meal, just reduce the portion, and what is saved, share with someone who does not have as much as you do. If repenting from all your sins sounds impossible, just begin with the little ones. The little gossips, the little lies you tell to get out of trouble. Those little sins are even trickier. They make us think we are still holy, and by the time you add them up, they become very heavy.

If you are still listening to me, it is an indication that you really want to be a better person. But I know one more obstacle that you have: there is just not enough time to do the good things you want to do in this season of Lent. If that is your challenge, Fulton Sheen has a piece of advice for you, he says, “The secret of getting things done is to know what to leave undone.” As we begin this season of Lent, may the Holy Spirit enlighten us to know what to drop and what to carry, and may God grant us the grace to act according to that knowledge, until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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