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Ash Wednesday

February 14, 2018

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi


I am always struck by the large numbers of people who come to church on Ash Wednesday, as many if not more than the great celebrations of Christmas and Easter. The Mass is like any other regular Mass except for one thing—we are marked with ashes. Why do people come for what appears to be the reason of being marked with ashes?

I think deep within each person is the desire to know the truth of their existence, to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. To remember our life on this earth is a gift from God, but that it is a temporary gift, it does not last forever. Ash Wednesday brings us face to face with our own death and challenges us to look more closely at how we are spending our limited time here on this earth.

Ashes imprinted on our foreheads are a powerful reminder of this truth — our time on this planet is limited, and everything we think is so important and so essential eventually passes away.

But that is not the whole story of Ash Wednesday, nor of our life of faith, because these cold as death ashes are imprinted on our foreheads with the sign of the cross. By Jesus’ death on the cross, we need no longer fear death nor the temporary nature of our earthly existence. Jesus invites us to die with him, to let loose our grip on the things of this world in order to grip more firmly the eternal truth of his life-giving, death destroying love. The cross imbedded on our forehead reminds us that we are to “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

In other words, we are to turn our lives toward Jesus in all things and in every way in order to discover the great good news of His saving love now, today.

The Holy Season of Lent reminds us we are called to do more than give up something. Rather, we are called to give ourselves more fully to Someone, Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life and Death.

There are three traditional ways practiced by people of faith over centuries upon centuries to give ourselves more fully to Jesus, and thus through Him to God the Father. Jesus encourages his disciples to put these three into practice throughout their life. They are prayer, almsgiving and fasting. All three cause us to look more closely at how we are spending our short time on earth.

All of us need to go each day into the “desert of quiet” and spend some time listening and speaking with Jesus. One of the best ways to listen to Him is through His Holy Word in the Scriptures, especially in the Gospels. When we spend time in quiet with him each day, Jesus will bring to light areas of our life which he wants to heal, especially the resentments we carry with us that are like acid burning a hole in our soul. In fact, it’s only by prayer that we are able to give these hurts to God, to let go of them.

But prayer is not only personal, but also communal, so we set aside time every Sabbath to join our brothers and sisters in Christ in praising and thanking the Father for all He has done for us in Christ Jesus. To be nourished by the great gift of the Eucharist. The Risen Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist as we give ourselves to Him.

By giving alms, which is love in action, we give ourselves to Jesus present in the least of our brothers and sisters. For whatsoever we do for them, Jesus tells us, we do for Him. Giving alms is more than giving of our money, but even more importantly giving of our time to reach out to touch the broken body of our Lord in those who suffer around us. So almsgiving can mean giving ourselves to Jesus by visiting those who are sick, or those who are in nursing homes or homebound, or those in prison behind bars. Almsgiving happens when we help out at Sr. BJ’s pantry for the homeless in downtown OKC or assist in organizing the food given to the Regional Food Bank, giving of our time to help out at Catholic Charities, or bringing canned food to Mass to be given to the local food pantry here in Mustang.

Fasting is more than simply eating less or giving up our favorite food or drink. Fasting means also giving up those habits which drain time out of our day, such as spending too much time on social media or vegging in front of the TV. Some people can sit down in front of their computer, open their Facebook page, and surf the net, and all of sudden an hour or two has disappeared from their day. What would happen if we spent that time this Lent interacting with family or friends, or using that time for prayer or to practice deeds of charity?

The resounding call of Lent is to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” In other words, it’s about conversion, about turning to the Lord Jesus and giving ourselves more fully to Him, who is the Resurrection and the Life.

He is the one who can lead us through the many “deaths” we experience while living on this earth. He is the One who leads us through our own bodily death to life everlasting.

Photo by unsplash-logoAhna Ziegler on Unsplash