My brothers and sisters, today we begin the journey of Lent: a journey to come closer to the God who loves us more than we could ask or imagine. Today is an opportunity to gather together to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and to recommit ourselves to being his disciples.
Yet, I feel that I have an obligation to share with you some bad news as well...an obligation as a minister of the Gospel to discuss with you a problem that has been weighing on my heart. I made a promise to the Lord to preach the truth both in season and out of season and so, for the good of our souls, I will share that problem with you.
Every year on Ash Wednesday, there is a great multitude of people come to the church to receive ashes. So many people come that we have to hold extra services here in the church hall. This would seem to be a good thing. However, on Sunday the crowds will be gone. There will be seats left in the Church.
Where have all these people gone? Why did they come in the first place?
Last year, I was assisting with one of the Masses on Ash Wednesday. During time for communion, many people thought that it was time to receive the ashes and came forward expecting to get their ashes and leave. I remember one woman in particular...as she approached me I held up Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and said “The Body of Christ.” She responded: “I don’t want that...I just want the ashes.”
What a great shame this is. The Lord has given us the miracle of his presence in the Holy Eucharist—offering himself to us freely in order to lift us up, to purify us, to share his own life with us. Yet we don’t want that...we only want some ashes. The true light has come into the world, yet we grasp at shadows.
Why? What good will these ashes do for us? They are merely a sign of our repentance, a sign that we desire to follow Christ more closely. I tell you today, with the authority of the Holy Roman Catholic Church and in the name of Jesus our Savior, that if we do not have a relationship with Christ the ashes are completely worthless...they will do us no good at all. The belief that somehow we have an obligation to receive them so that we can avoid bad luck, not die in the next year or for other superstitious reasons...this is not a teaching of the Church. This is not a Christian belief. This is from Satan and very dangerous to our souls. I ask you, for the love of Almighty God, to repent of these beliefs if you have them.
That is the ‘bad news’ that I felt I must share. Yet there is also good news.
Each and every one of you, regardless of the reason you came here tonight, are precious children of God. You have been chosen by him and have been called to be disciples through your baptism. The Lord Jesus loved you so completely and so deeply that he was willing to offer his own life on the cross rather than to give up on you. He died and rose from the dead so that you might have life and live it more abundantly.
He calls you again today, regardless of your situation, regardless of what your past has been. As St. Paul tells us in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” I invite you today to recommit yourself to this salvation in Christ. I invite you to ask the Holy Spirit to come into your life in power to help you take up your own crosses and follow Jesus on the way of truth. I invite you to quit grasping at shadows and embrace the Light of the World who comes to illuminate our darkness, Jesus Christ our Lord, and to build a new and stronger relationship with him this Lent.
This next forty days represents an opportunity to live out that relationship in a renewed way. The Lord makes himself available to you in the sacraments of confession and Holy Communion. There are numerous opportunities to gather with the community here for prayer: the many prayer groups, the Lenten mission, and the celebrations of the Stations of the Cross. Embrace this opportunity to begin living your own eternal life more fully as a disciple of Jesus. This is the only value of the ashes we receive tonight: that they are a visible sign of this new commitment.
This is my prayer and my hope for you this Lent: that you take this opportunity to repent and recommit yourselves to the Gospel more fully.
In this hope, then, I would like all of us together to renew the promises of our own baptism...to stand before Almighty God and profess our faith in Him. As I ask each one of these questions, if you desire this renewal in your life, please answer “I do.”
V. Do you reject Satan?
R. I do.
V. And all his works?
R. I do.
V. And all his empty promises?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
R. I do.
V. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.