Sunday, February 19, 2012

Homily: Ash Wednesday B; Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily:Ash Wednesday- Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Reading: Joel 2:12-18; Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17; 2 Cor 5:20–6:2 and Matt 6:1-6, 16-18.

Ashes, Inward Cleansing, Fertility in Hope, Faith and Love

Ash Wednesday is a universal day of fast. Each year it introduces Lent, a new liturgical season, with the demands of newness of life. This period spans from today till the Holy Week which begins with Palm (Passion Sunday). It is a special time of grace that we yearn for God’s Love.

   St. Paul puts it well in the Second Reading “it is a favorable time” for spiritual and renewal; a time we renew our baptismal promises. It is a time of fasting and prayer. In our Seminary Community here, we are poised for full Day of Recollection with other Communal Spiritual activities. This is a special season that comes ones a year.  During this Season you and I are specially invited to pay closer attention to Scriptures, to the Word God; and for those who preach to do it with a renewed zeal. It is a favorable time of penance and reconciliation; a time we go back to pray Psalm 51, with David, asking for God’s blessings and forgiveness.

  In doing this, the Gospel reading of today (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18), warns against selfish and hypocritical penitential life of Lent. Whatever acts of charity and penance we do this lent must not be “so that people may see them.” Our alms giving, fasting and prayer this lent, should reflect our interior, deep spirituality and true love for Christ and our neighbors, already outlined in the sermon on the mountain (Matt 5–7).  It is for this same reason, spirituality that comes from within, that, Prophet Joel in the first reading (Joel 2:12-18) warns against the “locust plague” the Day of the Lord,  the impending judgment and advises us thus: “Return to me with fasting, weeping and mourning; Rend your hearts not your garments.” 

 Heart, I mean "biblical heart" is the center of love. We need to keep it clean. It is from the heart that you and I initiate our penance in the direction of corporeal and spiritual works of mercy, on behalf of our brothers and sisters. We need a pure heart to love and to forgive.

The Ashes that we shall receive at this Mass are ashes, dust and sacramental of our personal stories that we were “created out of dust and dust shall we return” (Gen 3:19); we are nothing without God. It is an ancient and biblical symbol of the sinful, broken, and dusty human conditions, in need of interior cleansing, purification, renewal, fertility and God’s mercy.

Job for instance; at the end of his fruitless argument with God puts on dust and ashes as signs of repentance (Job 42:5-6). While mourning for Jerusalem Isaiah put on sackcloth and stripped himself naked for three years (Isa 20:2). Jeremiah also recommended sackcloth and ashes as a sign of repentance (6:26). Christ himself fasted amidst temptations in a dusty wilderness for 40 days before his public ministry (Matt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13).

We are another Christ.  Moreover, once in a while we do feel a little dustiness in our lives; dust of laziness, dust of weaknesses; dust of violence and all kinds of injustices; and the more reason why we are here. We are also concern for our neighbors-like Job, Isaiah and Jeremiah- we all want to be cleansed in Christ.

 In fact in some cultures after cooking with fire woods the remaining ashes are used as manure, fertilizers and agents of growth and fertility of crops in farm lands and gardens. Think about that! And may the ashes we receive this day on our foreheads serves not only as a sign of our need for inward cleansing and purification, but also as a sign of fertility in hope, faith and Christian Love.