27 February, 2012

Homily for Ash Wednesday 2012

You don’t think your way into a new way of acting; you act your way into a new way of thinking.
When I was at college one of my tutors often used this expression to represent the formative power of having a rule of life, and of liturgy. When you first engage with a rule of life, you have to stick with it, even when your moods and desires do not match it. In time you will train yourself in fortitude to respect the rule of life, reorienting your thoughts in accordance to it.

I think this is what Joel is trying to say in the first reading. The prophet calls out to the people of God and urges them not only to amend their way of life, but to reorient themselves towards God. And so we read
even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning (Joel 2:12)
For Joel fasting, weeping, and mourning are necessary for the reorienting of the heart towards God, and if we stick to them we will make our way into the new way of thinking that is repentance.
In our liturgy also the very sign of ashes being placed on our foreheads is an act that should prompt us to repentance; it is a reminder of what we should feel inwardly; that is, a deep sorrow for our sins and for all those occasions that have separated us from God, from his Church, and from neighbours.

Lent therefore is not as much as period in which we out to restrain ourselves from pleasurable things in order to “accentuate the positives” of the Easter celebrations. We must not fast or give up something for the sake of it or in order to binge in forty days’ time; or if you follow the more modern school of thought, we must not take on something good and holy as a penitence, longing to be freed for the apparent burden of it after Easter.
No. We ought to fast, weep and mourn; we ought to give up something to the glory of God, knowing that our acts will enable us to reorient ourselves towards Him who alone is our true joy, and our ultimate end.

What's more, we must also remember that our sincere efforts of self-denial are always aided by God and by the prayers of the saints. If it were not so, our fast and abstinence may become stumbling blocks on which our human pride will fall. This is way prayers such as the collect for Lent reads, Almighty […] God, […] create and make in us new and contrite hearts. In our Lenten rule of life we want to show to God that we are doing our very best to repent from our sins and to return to him with our whole heart. Ultimate success however, depends on our utter reliance on his Grace and forgiveness.

Let us pray,
Almighty God,
by the prayer and discipline of Lent
may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings,
and by following in his Way come to share in his glory; 
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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