Prayer-Fasting-Almsgiving-Love: Ash Wednesday
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB – Ash Wednesday
Sermon and Christian Act in The Word
Theme: “You are dust and to the dust, you shall return” “True Interior Disposition: Inner Attitudes-Prayer-Fasting-Almsgiving-love”
Point of reflection: You are dust and to the dust you shall return, these are the words used when making a sign of Cross at Mass. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Easter journey. A movement from ashes to Easter. Are we ready to follow in the footsteps of Jesus suffering and crucifixion? The only requirement to be Easter people is to have a true interior disposition with inner Christian attitudes: Prayer-Fasting-Almsgiving-Love.
First Reading: Joel 2: 12-18
Psalm: Psalms 51: 3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14, 17
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 20-6:2
Gospel: Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
Sermon (Reflection): The season of Lent gives us an opportunity to contemplate the mystery of Jesus’ suffering and attainment of redemption. It prepares us for Easter which is the greatest feast of all feasts in the liturgical calendar. The beginning of Lent is marked with the blessing and imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. This is a reminder that we are dust and to the dust we shall return. It is a call to repentance and reconciliation. The act of putting on ashes symbolises human fragility and mortality; humanity is redeemed by the mercy of God.
The Scriptural readings of Ash Wednesday offer a quest to have a true interior disposition by recognising that we are sinners and we need repentance and reconciliation. The Book of the Prophet Joel presents us with an invitation to “return to the Lord with fasting, weeping and mourning” (Cf. Joel 2: 12-18). Why? Because we are sinners. Our psalm cried out “Be merciful, O Lord” (Cf. Psalms 51: 3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14, 17). Why? Because we are sinners. The season of Lent provides us with the opportunity to fine-tune our choices, to sharpen our vision, to intensify our willingness to heed God’s voice and to hold fast to Him. Why? Because we are sinners. That is the path to life: from ashes to Easter! Lent is an opportune time to interiorly rediscover oneself with a true interior disposition of prayer, fasting, almsgiving and love.
The first reading from the book of Joel further recounts what the Lord said “Even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, … and tear your hearts and not your garments” ( Cf. Joel 2:12-18). The catching phrase is “tear your heart not garment”. The heart is an essential internal organ which is very important for human living, and God is calling His people to tear their hearts, not garments. He simply calls for an interior disposition and purification of His people. Joel further says, Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in mercy. Lenten period is a time to return to the Lord because God is so gracious and merciful. It is a call to all Christians during this Lenten period to repent and return to the Lord.
The Gospel of Ash Wednesday warns about show-offs and hypocrisy (Cf. Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18). The cancer of hypocrisy is killing our families, communities, our societies, our countries and even the Church. Jesus is simply against the show-off spirit and hypocritical tendencies because God sees in the heart. That is why we need a true interior disposition during this Lenten period: what is needed is not simply an outward show but most importantly, an inner conversion. There is no better time than the season of Lent to reflect deeply upon the state of our souls and to willingly embrace the cross, not simply on our foreheads but in our lives. It is about interior disposition not external disposition.
St Paul is warning the Corinthians that the time for reconciliation is now not tomorrow “Be reconciled to God, behold, now is the acceptable time” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5: 20—6:2). The second reading calls us during this Lenten period to focus on reconciliation. The Lenten period is a time for re-examining oneself and getting reconciliation. Lent is a wake-up call and an invitation to rediscover oneself in the spirit of the Lord.
Christian Act in the Word of God “Inner Attitudes: Prayer-Fasting-Almsgiving-Love”
We need to be ready to accept our sins and be ready to repent as the psalmist says “Have mercy, O Lord, for we have sinned.” The first step we need to undergo during the Lenten period is Acceptance. We need to accept that we are sinners and by accepting, we reposition ourselves with true interior disposition. This points to the second step which is offering and practising Christian Inner Attitudes of Prayer-Fasting-Almsgiving-Love
During the Lenten period, we need to increase our times for prayer. It is through genuine prayer that we make room for God in our life and we express our deepest desire to interiorly dispose ourselves to God as Jesus said, If anyone wants to follow me, let him/her deny himself/herself and take up his cross and follow (Cf. Matthew 16:24-26). The Lenten period calls Christians to fasting. Through fasting, we deny ourselves something in order to share it with others, especially those in need. The challenge these days is that our societies and communities deny themselves material goods and use those denied material goods later after the Lenten period not giving to those in need. The act of fasting is not preserving the material goods for later use, No! It is an act of charity-giving to those in need and less privileged. The traditional dimension of almsgiving leads Christians to share with others what they have received from the Lord in a spirit of communion and solidarity. During this Lenten period let us share our fortunes with the less fortunate.
As Christians, during the Lenten period, we need to exercise love because we can practise three traditional dimensions of Lent: Prayer-Fasting-Almsgiving, but, if we do not have love then our practises are in vain glory.
Our listening to the Word of God must lead us to develop inner attitudes during the Lenten season. St Benedict in his rule for monks and nuns, urged his followers to live their entire life as a continuous lent. It is a call to all Christians to live a life of continuous lent.
Action: During this Lenten period, let me listen more to the Word of God and undergo the mystery of suffering as I attend the Way of the Cross every week. I must be a Good Samaritan that I can pray, fast, do charity work and love. My charity should not be a show-off or an announcement because God sees and appreciates those who give in secret.
Prayer: Almighty Ever-Living God, as we begin this year’s Lenten season, may we accept all our sins and allow them to die with Jesus during this Lenten period so that on the resurrection day which is Easter, we may rise in New Life. Give us a heart and a spirit of prayer, fasting, and doing charity so that we deny ourselves for the sake of Christ. Lord we repent our iniquities and confess our sins, have mercy on us and pardon our sins during this year’s Lenten period. We ask this through Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, Amen.