Fr. Mike’s Homily for Ash Wednesday Year C
Theme: Prayer, fasting and almsgiving
By: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Michael the Archangel Parish
Diocese of Novaliches
Homily for Wednesday March 2 2022
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 others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.
Today we begin the Season of Lent. The word ʺLentʺ comes from an old English word ‘lencten’, of Germanic origin, which means ‘long’, perhaps with reference to the lengthening of the day in spring and the new life it ushers in. Liturgically, Lent is a period of forty days, and that is why we call it “Cuaresma”. Forty days remind us of the forty days and forty nights that Jesus spent in the desert, praying and fasting, in preparation for His public ministry.
The emphasis of this season is on repentance, sacrifice and conversion. The Gospel, therefore, gives three important practices during this time: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Jesus warns us that these must not be done for show and public adulation, like the scribes and Pharisees, but with sincere intention and motive of love of God and sorrow for sins.
The first practice is prayer, our constant communication with God. This is of prime importance in our Christian life so that we can focus our direction and goal towards our heavenly destination. But prayer can sometimes become self-motivated and self-centered. Oftentimes we pray only when we need help from God. It is, therefore, necessary to purify our motivation and intentions.
And this is what the second practice is all about: fasting. It is a form of sacrifice so that we will learn to control our desires by the practice of self-denial. At the same time, fasting helps us feel the pain and the suffering of the poor and the hungry, thereby making us more compassionate and sensitive to their needs. Fasting, however, is not only abstaining from food, but also from any sinful activities and desires and all unhealthy forms of entertainment and harmful vices.
But prayer and fasting are not enough. In fact, God said through Isaiah that the fasting He desires is helping the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, granting liberty to captives and all other corporal acts of mercy. Fasting and prayer, therefore, become more pleasing in the eyes of God when we come to the aid of our needy brothers and sisters. This is the third practice: almsgiving. It is not just giving alms. It is really about extending a helping hand to anybody in need, especially the poor, the sick, the orphans and the destitute.
During this Mass, we will have the imposition of ashes on our foreheads. These ashes come from the palm branches blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year. They will be imposed on our foreheads to remind us, first, of the ugliness of sin. Secondly, to remind us of our human frailty and the brevity of life: “From dust thou art, to dust thou shalt return.” And finally, to express our sincere sorrow for sins and our fervent desire to follow Jesus more closely and faithfully: “Turn away from sin and believe the Gospel.” In short, as a famous quotation says, “We don’t wear ashes to proclaim our holiness but to acknowledge that we are sinners who are in need of repentance and renewal.”
During the season of Lent, we are exhorted to pause for a while, to slow down with our worldly activities and concerns. No matter how busy we are, we must never lose sight of our true home and final destiny, namely, union with God in heaven. Hence, we need to pray better, do some acts of penance with more sincerity, and be more generous and cheerful in giving and sharing.
Far from being a day of sorrow, Thomas Merton says that “Ash Wednesday is full of joy. The source of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust.” A Carmelite nun, St. Mary of Jesus Crucified (1846-1878), gives us this reality check: “Everything passes here on earth. What are we? Nothing but dust, nothingness and God is so great, so beautiful, so lovable and He is not loved.” May we never forget that we are dust, we are nothing, and God is everything. And the realization that we are not loving God enough should fill us with deep sorrow. Let us, therefore, pray always for the grace of repentance and conversion so that we may become truly pleasing in the eyes of God.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Michael the Archangel Parish
Diocese of Novaliches