Ash Wednesday – February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday Mass 5:00 PM

Thank you Fr. John for saying mass and administering the ashes in the absence of Fr. Luis, who is ill. Thank you to our choir for a beautiful musical liturgy.

Gospel Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Fr. John’s homily suggested that in the 6 week Lenten period we have the opportunity to develop better new habits and to get rid of bad ones. He urged a very thoughtful use of fasting, abstinence and penance, to seek the real purpose of these traditions rather than just doing them – perhaps with a sense of futility. He told us that in other cultures people eat one meal a day and suggested some of us might try fasting and discover that our bodies are actually happier and healthier, and benefit from a lower plane of nutrition. He also urged us to be less busy, to make time for friends, especially friends whom we have neglected over time. With sincere prayer and a deeper understanding of penance, we can achieve change for the better in our lives.

Pope Francis begins Lent with the traditional station church walk, processing to St. Sabina on the Aventine Hill, an early 5th century church. Fox also carried the story. George Weigel has written a wonderful book on this tradition: “ROMAN PILGRIMAGE – The Station Churches.”

From the Vatican Information Service:

Lent: call for reconciliation with God, Who knows no hypocrisy

Vatican City, 19 February 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father presided at the traditional penitential procession from the church of St. Anselm on the Aventine Hill to the Basilica of St. Sabina, located on the same Roman hill. A number of cardinals, archbishops and bishops also took part, along with the Benedictine monks of St. Anselm, the Dominican fathers of Santa Sabina, and the faithful.

After the procession, Pope Francis presided at the Eucharistic celebration with the rite of the blessing and imposition of the ashes. The Pope received them from the hands of Cardinal Josef Tomko, the titular of the Basilica, and subsequently imposed them upon the cardinals and several monks, consecrated persons and faithful.

In his homily, the Pope commented on the Gospel readings of the Mass, beginning with the passage from the Prophet Joel, sent by God to call the population to penance and conversion following the plague of locusts that devastated Judah. “Only the Lord can save from the scourge, and it is therefore necessary to plead through prayer and fasting, confessing one’s own sin”. The prophet insists on inner conversion, begging the population to return to God with all their hearts, which means “undertaking a path of conversion that is not superficial or transitory, but rather a spiritual itinerary that involves the most intimate part of our person. The heart, indeed, is the seat of our sentiments, the centre where our decisions and attitudes mature”.

Joel’s call is not directed solely at individuals: it is extended to the entire community, and is a convocation to all, paying special attention to the prayer of priests, and reiterating that this must be accompanied by tears. “It does good to all, but especially to priests, at the beginning of this Lenten time, to ask for the gift of ears, so as to make our prayer and our path of conversion ever more authentic and free of hypocrisy”, continued the Pope. “It is good for us to ask: ‘Do I weep? Does the Pope weep? Do the cardinals weep? Do the bishops weep? Do priests weep? Do we weep in our prayers?”.

This is the message, he emphasised, of today’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus rereads the three works of mercy prescribed by the Mosaic Law – almsgiving, prayer and fasting – “which over time have been attacked by the rust of external formalism, or have even mutated into signs of social superiority”. He continued, “Jesus highlights a common temptation in these three works, that can be summarised in hypocrisy (mentioned three times): ‘Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them … Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do … And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites … For they love to stand and pray … that they may be seen by others’. Be aware, brothers, that hypocrites do not know how to weep, they have forgotten how, they do not ask for the gift of tears”.

“When we do something good, almost instinctively there arises in us the desire to be esteemed and admired for this good action, to receive satisfaction from it. Jesus invites us to carry out these works without any ostentation, and to trust solely in the Father’s reward”.

“The Lord never ceases to have mercy on us, or to offer his forgiveness once again, whenever we are in need of it, inviting us to turn to him with a renewed heart, purified of evil, purified by tears, in order to participate in His joy. How can we accept this invitation? St. Paul suggests to us: ‘We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God’. This effort of conversion is not simply a human task: it is allowing oneself to be reconciled. The reconciliation between us and God is possible thanks to the mercy of the Father Who, out of love for us, did not hesitate to sacrifice His only Son. … In Him, we can become righteous, in Him we can change, if we welcome God’s grace and do not allow the ‘favourable time’ to pass by in vain. Please, let us stop for a moment and let ourselves be reconciled with God”, exclaimed the Holy Father.

As a sign of our will to be reconciled with God, “aside from the tears that are shed in secret, we make the public gesture of the imposition of the ashes on the forehead. The celebrant pronounces these words: ‘For you are dust, and to dust you shall return’, or repeats Jesus’ exhortation: ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’. Both formulas constitute a reminder of the truth of human existence: we are limited creatures, sinners always in need of penance and conversion. How important it is to hear and heed this call in our time! The invitation to convert thus inspires us to return, like the son in the parable, into the arms of God, tender and merciful Father, to weep in that embrace, to trust in Him and entrust ourselves to Him”.


Fr. Robert Barron

At the beginning of baseball season, the coach has to bring his players back to basics. He has to remind them of the three-point stance, the mechanics of throwing, the timing of a swing, the importance of keeping your eye on the ball, etc. It doesn’t matter how great of a season a player had the year before. He has to begin spring training with the basics because before he can do spectacular things in a sport, he must make sure he is doing the simple and elemental things well.

The same is true in the spiritual life. Lent is a time to get tuned up, to get back to basics, to remember the fundamentals. This is why the Church asks us to look at the beginning of the book of Genesis, the story of the creation and the fall.

We’ve heard it often; it’s probably emblazoned in our minds-but we need to hear it again: “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” On Ash Wednesday, we hear echoes of this in the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Today we are reminded that our lives come from God. Our very existence comes from God. We are owed nothing. We have nothing coming to us. Every breath we take is a reminder of our dependency upon God; every beat of our heart is a reminder that God is the Lord.

As we begin our Lenten journey, let us take a few minutes to reflect on the reality that without God we are nothing and to give thanks that God loved us into being.

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Marked for Salvation

At the beginning of Dante’s Purgatorio, the Pilgrim discovers seven Ps scratched across his brow─one for each of the seven deadly sins (peccati). Through his laborious climb up the seven-storied mountain, one by one, the P’s are wiped away. It is the image of a soul saved, but still struggling free of sin’s sevenfold lack of love.

Lent charts us on a laborious course up a similar Mount Purgatory. And at the base today we too find our faces begrimed. Our ashes make public confession that we stand stained by our wicked deeds. We have earned the dusty death wage of sin. Yet, like the guilty Cain, who received a mysterious mark from the hand of the Lord, this sign we wear is also God’s seal of protection (cf. Gn 4:15). We are branded today with the sign of the cross, as sheep of the Lord’s own pasture, so that the devil (who would make on us his own mark of the beast) will know to keep his thieving hands off. The sign of the death due for our sins thus becomes the emblem of hope─if we believe in the cross and repent in dust and ashes. Ezekiel foresaw this mystery in vision when he saw the saved, who grieve over the sins of Jerusalem, having an X written upon their brow (Ez 9:4).

Reflection based on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

  Father Anthony Giambrone, O.P.

Heavenly Father, may the indelible mark of the cross sealed

upon me at Baptism be engraved more deeply upon my heart.

May my penance this Lent help put my sin to death

and wash away its stains.

Today’s suggested penance:
Spend fifteen minutes or more praying the holy name of Jesus.

May God fill your Lent with his presence

and lead you to a renewed experience of his love.

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