Monday, 4 February 2008

Ash Wednesday - Year A

Joel 2:12-18; 2Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18

Lent is my favourite time of the year, it has been for decades. I think it came about as a result of the Lenten homilies given by the parish priest (now a venerable Monsignor) of my youth. This man somehow managed unfailingly to inspire in me a kind of joyful excitement about Lent. It was a new beginning, a time for growth, a time for hope, a time for drawing closer to the Lord. I don't know from where this priest drew his inspiration but perhaps it was from the Office of Readings for Ash Wednesday which I read with delight this morning.

The prophet Isaiah, in Chapter 58:1-12, describes what God offers to those who seek repentance and conversion in their lives:

Then will your light shine like the dawn
and your wounds be quickly healed over.
... your light will rise in the darkness,
and your shadows become like noon.
The Lord will always guide you,
giving you relief in desert places.
He will give strength to your bones
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water
whose waters never run dry.
You will rebuild the ancient ruins,
build up on the old foundation.
You will be called `Breach-mender',
`Restorer of ruined houses'.

Now I ask you, isn't that exciting? What could be better than having your wounds 'quickly healed over'; your shadows become 'like noon'; your bones given strength for doing good; 'rebuilding' the ancient ruins ... 'on the old foundations' and becoming 'like a watered garden'?

For anyone with the least sense of their own sinfulness and of the 'ruined house' that they have made of their soul through sin, Lent is the most wonderful time - a time of extraordinary grace - in which the Lord draws us, once again, through the Lenten exercises of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, closer and closer to himself.

In a moment I am going to sign you with this black substance I have in this little bowl. You know what it is - burnt ashes and holy water - mixed together. The ashes of death are sprinkled with the waters of life.

I will place them on your forehead in the sign of the Cross of Jesus, the true sign of death and life. And then you will return to to your seats to begin with this Mass, nourished with the Body of Christ, the journey of Lent.

Are you excited? I am.

Many of you will have made a Lenten resolution - no coffee, no alcohol, a daily Rosary, or maybe an extra weekday Mass, money for the victims of the latest disaster? Good .. great!

But let me give you a context for your Lenten penances. Do them in silence!

For many people today what stands between them and God is not sin but 'noise'.
Noise is a terrible thing and it's everywhere. Why is it terrible? Because it threatens to drown out the voice of God and even the thought of God.

There are two noises I am thinking of especially. The noise that comes out of us and the noise that comes into us.

The first noise sounds like 'Yak, yak, yakketty, yakketty, yak, yak' and sometimes it goes on and on. We have to do something about that noise.

Maybe it would be good to see people walking about during this Lent with a tape over their mouth. That would stop at least the noise that comes out of us.

The second noise is made by such things as television sets, radios, computer games, computers, the books we read, and so on. These noises are much easier to turn off than the first - usually a flick of the dial or a press of the button will do it.

When we succeed in lowering the noise level of our lives we will begin to hear things and think things and hope things we thought we'd long ago left behind. Then we can begin our Lenten exercises - prayer, fasting, almsgiving - but quietly.
No trumpets, no long faces, no standing on street corners - just shhhhh!

After Mass let's just quietly slip out of the church and into the Lenten silence together.

He's waiting for us there .....

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