ASH WEDNESDAY HAVE MERCY ON US, O LORD, FOR WE HAVE SINNED
(Wednesday March 6, 2019)
Today the Holy Mother Church begins the forty days’ journey of Lent. It is indeed a holy season in which the Church calls all her Children to repentance and reconciliation. No wonder then St. Paul describes this period as a favourable time and a period of salvation. We begin this journey by first acknowledging that we are sinners and need healing from God.
Each year the Church begins the Lenten season with Ash Wednesday, a day set aside to remind us of the source of our origin and that one day, we must certainly return to it. It is a day of penitence because the placing of the ashes on our foreheads is a reminder that we are practically nothing and always in need of the grace of God. Also, the use of ashes in the Old Testament tradition is a humble sign of repentance. In this Jewish tradition, when people left sin behind and turned over a new leaf they used ashes to symbolize their repentance.
The Church deemed it fit to retain this old Jewish tradition by setting aside Lenten period to be a good time to call all her children to repentance. That is why the central theme of this holy season of Lent is repentance and we are being advised to seek the face of God and live. O that today, you will listen to His voice, harden not your hearts" (Heb 3:15).
The entrance antiphon in today's liturgy reminds us of the nature of God's mercy and compassion on those who seek Him in fear and in trembling. It goes thus: “You are merciful to all, O Lord, and despise nothing that you have made. You overlook people’s sins, to bring them to repentance, and you spare them, for you are the Lord our God”. It is in Him that we live and have our being. Our spiritual life regains its strength in God.
The readings of today put a summary note concerning all we need to know about Lent and the attitude as well as the spirit we need to put on during this holy season.
The words of the Lord through the prophet Joel in our first reading are words that have special significance for us today as we begin this season of Lent and are words that we can easily see the Lord speaking to us personally, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” (Joel 2:12-13).
The responsorial psalm today is a personal prayer of a sinner who really feels sorry for his sins and returns to God asking for forgiveness and healing “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offence. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1). There is no other way to show that we are sorry for our sins if not to come back to the Lord and say have mercy on us Lord for we have sinned against you. This prayer of the Psalmist ought to be our daily personal prayer throughout this period of Lent.
In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us not to neglect the grace of God that we have received. As we pointed earlier on, without the grace of God, we are finished. Of course, without His grace, we can do nothing and so the worst thing that can happen to us is to neglect this grace of God which is the source of our spiritual strength. That is why St. Paul describes this time as a favourable time and a period of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
In the Gospel today (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18) Jesus spoke about prayer, fasting and giving alms. Since the early centuries, these are three practices the Church has encouraged us to undertake during Lent as a form of penance: praying more, fasting and giving alms to the poor. Christ in this gospel presents us with the best way to live out these three attributes that characterize Lent so that they would not be mere physical manifestations and show that bear no spiritual benefit.
Any Lenten observance devoid of these three attributes could be regarded as an incomplete Lenten observance. Yes, we may observe other numerous things during this period but whatever plans we set for ourselves starting from today being Ash Wednesday must take their point of departure from prayer, fasting (which may come in different forms) and almsgiving.
These forty days journey of Lent may be too long or too short for us depending on the plan(s) we set for ourselves. Let us dear brothers and sisters make the best use of this holy season of Lent the Church has given us. As we do at the beginning of each year, setting wonderful plans for ourselves, let us also plan well to participate actively in this year's Lenten period that flagged off today, by coming closer to God to renew our commitment to Him, by extending our hands of charity to the less privileged and then by doing penance for our sins through fasting from our bad habits in order to cultivate virtues.
May the opening prayer today help us to actualize our dreams during this season of Lent “Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil. As we begin the discipline of Lent, make this season holy by our self-denial”.
Let Us Pray: Lord Jesus give me grace to make sincere and honest effort to repent of my sins and return to you. May your love and mercy save me always. Amen.