(JL 2:12-18; 2 COR 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)
A story was told by Fr. Tommy Lane:
During a Parish Family Retreat Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen related an incident that took place when he was ministering as a priest in New York City. He was called urgently to an apartment where a girl named Kitty was dying. It was one of the dirtiest rooms he had seen. He asked her if she would like to make her peace with the Lord. She said she couldn’t because she was the worst girl in New York City. (She didn’t bring in enough money from the streets so her husband poisoned her and she was dying of poisoning.) Fr. Sheen immediately replied that she was not the worst girl in New York City because the worst girl would think she was the best girl. After telling her some of the parables of Jesus she agreed to go to confession. Fr. Sheen anointed her and immediately she was better. She was healed physically and even more importantly she was healed spiritually. After her recovery she became an apostle to the people among whom she worked and she brought them to Fr. Sheen. They would come to him and say, “Father, I am the person Kitty told you about.” Kitty received the mercy of Jesus and became an apostle of Divine Mercy.
Three Things on Ash Wednesday
1. The Father
Amazingly, Jesus in the Gospel today brings out the heart of the celebration of the Lenten Season by repeatedly mentioning the Father. He says that in whatever you do, remember that “your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” He makes known to all of us that we have a Father who is merciful: one who sees and one who rewards us. Jesus never failed to mention that in every form of penance especially through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, God attends to the man of sincere repentant heart. The words spoken by the priest or minister as he marks the cross on the forehead are of two options: first, “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return,” and second: “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.” Both statements speak of the goal of man and this goal is more felt and reflected in this sacred time of the year. As the Father is introduced by Jesus today, we shall witness Jesus’ last word on the cross: “Father” into your hands I commend my Spirit. Our goal is not death but to be with the Father and the meaningful celebration of the season of Lent brings us closer to this goal offered to us.
2. Gift of Time
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten Season. Lent means “springtime.” It is a time of penitential acts that bring our renewal, growth, and reconciliation with the Lord. We have to remember that there is always a “time for everything” (Cf Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) thus, this time is a time to be ever more mindful of all our sins and to seek for the grace of conversion. St. Paul, in the second reading today reminded the Corinthians that the season is a gift from the Lord thus, “now is a very acceptable time, today is a day of salvation.” Pope Francis goes on to say that “time is greater than space.” Time involves process while space stifles progress. Ashes symbolize points to a specific time of the year for a deeper sense of penance, humility, and sorrow for sins. Benedict XVI mentioned in 2013 in his message for Lent that this time is a “valuable opportunity to meditate on the relationship between faith and charity: between believing in God – the God of Jesus Christ – and love, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and which guides us on the path of devotion to God and others.” Lent is an issue of faith. This sacred time of the year becomes meaningful to those who have faith to renew themselves.
Lent reminds us of the symbols that make us celebrate and remember God. Ashes are symbols in Sacred Scriptures where man remembers that by sinning he offended God and his fellowmen and they become concrete symbols of remembering and yearning for God’s mercy. The Ninevites put on sackcloth and throw ashes on their heads manifesting their begging for mercy. As the word “ashes” is literally an image of complete waste, it also symbolizes or it becomes a metaphor for weakness, ephemerality and emptiness. Ashes symbolize intense grief for sins, mortality, and penance. The season of Lent makes us remember that we live and celebrate our Christian with symbols because God makes Himself tangible to us with symbols and signs. The greatest of these signs, aside from the mystery of the Resurrection, is the institution of the Bread and Wine into His Body and Blood. Our response to Jesus’ initiative to reach out to us should also be tangible both to God and to everyone. Outward symbols should point to an inner reality of conversion. The Prophet Joel in the first reading illustrates this paradigm by mentioning twice the value of the heart in one’s sorrow for sins. He said, we should return to the Lord with our heart, and rent our hearts not our garments. Rending once garments in the Biblical times was an external sign of repentance and grief for one’s sins. But Jesus reminds us that the external rending of garments should be surpassed by the internal dimension of repentance.
Wednesday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time Year 1
(Col 1:1-8; Lk 4:38-44)
A story has been told of a missionary who was swept overboard while traveling on very high and rough seas, and was subesequently washed up on a beach at the edge of a remote native village. Nearly dead from exposure and lack of food and fresh water, he was found by the people of the village and nursed back to health. He lived among them for twenty years, quietly adapting to their culture and working alongside with them. He preached no sermons, and made no claim of personal faith. He neither read nor recited Scripture to them. But when people were sick, he sat with them sometimes all night. When people were hungry, he fed them. When people were lonely, he gave a listening ear. He taught the ignorant and always took the side of one who had been wronged. The day came when missionaries entered the village and began talking to the people about a man named Jesus. After listening for awhile to their story, the natives began insisting that Jesus had already been living in their village for many years. “Come,” one of them said, “we’ll introduce you to Him.” The missionaries were led to a hut where they found their long-lost comapanion. (taken from God’s Little Daily Devotional, p. 300) To witness the faith is always an irreplaceable priority of missionary and Christian living. Faith is complete when it influences others. Witnesses are great teachers of the faith. Paul VI said “people today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41) Today’s readings speak about witnesses. The Colossians were admired by Paul because of the faith, hope and love they live because of the Gospel that was preached to them while the Gospel Jesus becomes the Witness of the Father who was sought for by people because they witnessed in Him the goodness of God.
1. A new way of living- a true witness is one whose life has been influenced by the Gospel. He lives with the Word that is proclaimed to Him and makes Jesus as the model of every human undertaking. His perspectives in life are shaped by Word of God. Paul admired the Colossians for their fidelity to the Church and to the Word of God. He addressed the letter calling them the “holy ones” and “faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” Though Paul was no longer with them they still kept the faith and strove to foster a new way of life in Christ. The letter was written sometime in 60-61 AD when Paul was in prison in Rome. Though the Colossae Community was not directly founded by Paul during his second missionary journey, but by Epaphras, it was attached to the Apostle. The community was of Gentile origin yet a new way of living was described by Paul in two directions: first, a new way of life meant living out the virtues of faith, hope and love. These three theological virtues are signs of the presence of God, and the witness of a new life in Christ. Man cannot produce these virtues but they are infused to man, thus, theological. Paul, admired them for keeping these virtues discernible in the community. He said “we always give thanks to God” for “we have heard of your faith” and the “love that you have for all” and the “hope reserved for you” in heaven. Second, is the effect of the faith which is growing and bearing fruit. Faith becomes strengthened and effective when it is shared. The goodness that radiates projects springtime of one’s life.
2. Desire for more- witnessing introduces others to the new things of God. The Word that is proclaimed either by mouth or by way of life communicates the grace that is beyond human measure. Once a person is touched by the grace of God, he yearns for more. He continuously expects for more. In the Gospel, we were told that the people desired Jesus to perform more healing, feeding, preaching, and teaching. Though they may pragmatic but there was already a developing spiritual attachment in them. Three important gestures of attachment becomes detectable or perceptible in them: first, the crowds were looking for Him. This is indicative of faith. Faith makes one search for God; it is born with an encounter and yearns for more encounters. Second, the crowds desired that He should not leave them. This is indicative of love. Love desires company and “being with” the beloved and it pictures out a journey with the other. The crowds long that Jesus would be with them and journey with them. Third, the crowds became attached to the person of Christ. This illustrates hope. We were told in the Gospel that the crowds were looking for Him, and they came to Him which alludes to man’s desire for goals in life. Jesus presents to them that the goal of life is a Person and it is Him.
3. Effective leaders- Witnessing demands effective leaders. It recognizes leaders who are capable of carrying new ways of living out the faith and living out new expressions of hope in a shattered and fractured world. The Colossae community was formed by Epaphras because he was a “trustworthy minister of Christ” and he admired their “love in the Spirit.” An effective leader is one who is trustworthy and who appreciates the good things or new things in the community. In the Gospel, Jesus was demonstrated having the three qualities of an effetive leader: first, He practiced a life of solitude. He was away from the crowds and went to a “deserted place” to reflect and be in communication with the Father. Effective leaders have time to pray and be led by the will of God. Second, He did not center His ministry to Himself but allowed others to discover the Father instead. When He healed those who were sick and possessed by demons, He “did not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Christ.” Faith was enough as of the moment. Third, He was inclusive. His purpose was to make the Kingdom of God known and present in their midst. The healing of the sick was a prelude that the Kingdom of God is at hand. The universality or the inclusiveness of Jesus’ ministry is found in His words “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.”