Ash Wednesday Homily—Saint Patrick Basilica
Ottawa, ON—February 18, 2015
[Texts: Joel 2.12–18 (Psalm 51 ); 2 Corinthians 5.20–6.2; Matthew 6.1–6, 16–18]
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Living “in the world” without being “of the world” is a great challenge to Catholic Christians. The world keeps sending us messages contrary to the teaching of Christ and his Church. We need only reflect on the recent Supreme Court decision. It struck down the prohibition of doctors helping their patients commit suicide. This will gradually induce Canadians—including Catholics—to take the easy way out, to flee the message of the Cross, when facing pain or disease.
Many Christians seem to have embraced moralistic therapeutic deism as their code of life. This is a diluted Christian faith. This belief system agrees that God the creator exists and watches over us. But, he just wants us to be good and nice to each other, as taught by most world religions. The goal of life, in this view, is to be happy. God does not have to be involved except to solve a problem. And, oh, by the way, good people go to heaven when they die.
Many people—young and old—have picked up this philosophy from school, church and society in general. Somehow, we disciples of Christ are not calling them to embrace the full, joyful reality of the Good News. Instead, they have come to believe that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is not unlike a helpful social club filled with nice people.
The motivational speaker Matthew Kelly says that the biggest threat to our being “dynamic Catholics” is that we settle for three “isms”. They sap the power of the gospel.
“Individualism” tempts us to demand, “What’s in it for me?” before any spiritual exercise.
“Hedonism” dictates, “If it feels good, I’ll do it!” and shuns the opposite, anything that costs, like fasting, abstinence, prayer, and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Minimalism leads many Catholics to ask, “What is the least I can do?” (to be saved….)
If we pick up only worldly messages on our spiritual antennae, we miss out. So, join me in tuning in to today’s spiritual exercise of receiving the ashes on our foreheads and of heeding Jesus’ call in the gospel. Let’s make prayer, fasting and almsgiving an integral part of our life.
Lent is a journey of prayer, penitence and Christian asceticism. It begins with the imposition of ashes. By taking part in this penitential act today, we admit that we are sinners before the holiness of God. We show a desire to express our belief in the Gospel as good choices.
We perform gestures of penitence. We fast today and on Good Friday, and we abstain from meat on these days and the other Fridays of Lent. We commit ourselves to pray and give alms. Jesus tells us that these have value when they express a desire to do them only for God’s eyes. We commit to avoid evil and to follow the right path.
In Lent especially, the confessional offers a space to speak to God, heart-to-heart, to seek his healing and help, and to get off our chest whatever needs to be forgiven. Priests celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly here at Saint Patrick’s Basilica and in other parishes. As well, a special day for Confessions will be held on Friday, March 6, when our churches will have additional hours for confessions.
Today’s Gospel prescribes almsgiving as a penitential practice that blesses our neighbour. We are to share our goods with the less fortunate and to offer generous service to the needy.
Each of us will make our own intentions for a Lenten exercise. Whatever they may be, I pray that this Lent may be a fruitful time of growth for you. If we enter Lent with this outlook, we will celebrate the Easter mysteries in joy, with minds and hearts renewed.