Homily for Ash Wednesday Year C
Theme: TO BEGIN WITH; HAVE SOME ASHES
By: Fr. Ibimiluyi Peter
Homily for Wednesday March 2 2022
(Joel. 2:12-18; Ps. 51; 2 Cor. 5:20-6:2; Mt. 6:1-6,16-18)
Ours is a religion which features so many rituals and symbols: the sign of the cross, prayers, special embraces, a kiss, ashes etc. These usages are not completely alien to ancient religions and in fact, biblical formation as they run through the Old Testament. The frequent mention and usage of ashes in the scriptures purports its significance and importance in the life of those who use them and from these different instances, we can draw what they are used for. Ashes have come to be a sacramental which Christians use on Ash Wednesday, the first day of the forty days of Lent.
Throughout scripture, ashes are an important symbol of grief and repentance – a substance, like dust, to which our bodies return (cf. Gen. 18:27). Job uses the phrase “dust and ashes” twice, saying with great anguish in Job 30:19 that “He has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes” and again in Job 42:6 as an acknowledgement of his need for forgiveness “I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” The act of displaying one’s sorrow and repentance with literal ashes is a typical practice in ancient Israel and is a sign of honoring God. The prophet Daniel, too, used ashes to show his distress and repentance, and King David writes of eating ashes in Psalm 102 to prove the depths of his lament.
With this backdrop, we see why ashes are appropriately a veritable symbol to begin the Lenten season. Lent represents the time that Jesus spent wandering in the wilderness, praying and fasting. While worshippers are encouraged to reflect upon their commitment to their faith and the community throughout the season, Ash Wednesday services place a special emphasis on mortality and sinfulness signified with the use of ashes and the words uttered by the minister: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return or Repent and believe in the gospel.” The ashes used therefore represent the literal dust from which we were made and to which we shall return; one which is intended as a stark reminder of our mortality.
More generally, ashes have long been associated with sorrow, purification, and rebirth. Tradition holds that Christians wear ashes on the first day of lent in order to mourn and acknowledge the suffering that Jesus endured. As a gesture, it represents a willingness to repent of our sins and purify our soul in preparation for his resurrection. In a nutshell, ashes that we receive today signify humility (cf. Job 42:3-6), a reminder of death and a call to wisdom (cf. Gen. 3:19), a sacramental that points to the sacrament (Num. 19:9, 17), a sign of true change-metanoia (Cf. Jonah 3:6) and a summons to faith and a new mind (cf. Mt. 11:21).
And so the readings of today as much as they identify the need for change, put us in the right order; what nature our move for repentance and renewal during this season should take. Prophet Joel in the first reading warns against any form of artificial repentance “Tear your hearts and not your garments.” Receiving the ashes is not enough but an actual repentance is required, otherwise the ashes are a false sign. Jesus too in the gospel reading of today, speaking about the three pillars of the season, actions that aid us on our journey to repentance; prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Through prayer, we make room for God in our life and we express our desire to enter into a deeper friendship with the Lord. Through fasting, which can take various forms, we deny ourselves something in order to share it with others, especially those who are in need and through almsgiving, we are led to share with others what we have received from the Lord in a spirit of solidarity and communion. Hence Jesus gives us the proper order to follow; not simply as an obligation to fulfill or a means of showoff but an avenue to reconnect with the Father and be at the service of others for our Father who sees in secret will reward us. There is no better time for change than now for delay may be dangerous “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” How real are our ashes? Do we intend the things described above as the season unfolds or it’s just a mere ritual?
The law of fasting and abstinence is binding on all Catholics who have completed their fourteenth year for abstinence and eighteenth year to 60 for fasting.
Let us pray: As we begin O Lord this season of grace, may your grace be abundant for us to aid and lead us to that sincere conversion that the joys of Easter may thus be full in us. Amen
Fr. Ibimiluyi Peter