Fatima 100

Fatima 100
Easter Season: Christ has Risen! Alleluia Alleluia! Our Lady of Fatima 100th Anniversary: Saints Jacinta & Francisco, pray for us!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday 2017

Today is Ash Wednesday the beginning of the season of Lent. Many reflections come to my mind, in particular, the humility we should aspire to live by.

During Ash Wednesday, we receive the ashes as a sign of repentance, humility, and reminder of our finite existence on Earth. The use of ashes is not new and can be found in Sacred Scripture: Esther 4:1Job 42:6 and Daniel 9:3.

The ashes remind us of our state of this world.  "We are dust and to dust, we shall return" which comes from Genesis 3:19.  It is a reminder that we are not an end in ourselves.  Our lives, our successes, our education, in a word; our entire being returns to dust and ashes after death.  All that we were or could have been is reduced to a pile of ashes.  The whole thought is humbling.  The very word 'humbling' comes from 'humility.'  The word 'humility' comes from 'humus' which means 'dirt, soil or ashes from the Earth.'  The ashes placed on us should remind us of humility.  It should remind us that eventually, we will die and that life should be well spent, so to speak.  

We do not have all the time in the world so we must make good use of it in order to try our best to follow God's will.  As Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 states:  
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;"
God will call each one of us in due time. We will face judgment immediately after death as Hebrews 9:27 tells us, and there is no attorney nor can we make use of any alibi.  It is important that we try to do God's will and not waste our lives on sin and other vices that give the illusion of happiness or joy.  Like the quote from the classic movie, "A Bronx Tale" written by Chazz Palminteri states: "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent."  We all have the talents necessary along with God's grace in order to live a virtuous life and grow spiritually.  Ash Wednesday and Lent should remind us of this.

The ashes remind us of our finite state in this world.  The fasting and abstaining from meat remind us that we can give up anything in order to grow spiritually, even sustenance.  This shouldn't be a burden for 'man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God." (Matthew 4:4)  

As an atheist, existentialism was part of my frame of mind which states that all rests on the individual - we are an end in ourselves.  Ash Wednesday added to my way of thinking.  It reminded me that I am not an end in myself.  My intellectual reasoning ability, my knowledge, my talents etc eventually will dissipate as I take my last breath.  This allowed me to consider that there has to be more to life, this couldn't be it on Earth.  However, this is a topic for another blog post.

Unfortunately, some Catholics rely on the external aspect of days like Ash Wednesday.  The "A&P Catholics" come to church on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday out of 'duty' or false piety and not a genuine search for God and discipline to grow more in Him.  Like the Pharisees, they do not internalize the symbolism behind the sacramentals given on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday. Faith cannot become a mere "duty" or "obligation."  It must be a way of life.  

I hope you attending Ash Wednesday Mass today or if you receive ashes during a service that you remind yourself that we must be humble.  We must remember that we are indeed 'dust and to dust, we shall return.'  Nothing will change this.  No advancements in science or medicine will make death a thing of the past.  The ashes should remind us that the hourglass is slowly emptying and that we must make every effort to use every precious second to grow spiritual in God's grace.  We will fall along the way, but God will help us get back up.

The first reading reminds us that we have to return to the Lord.  Our fasting, the ashes we receive, our abstaining from meat much have an internal meaning, the rending of our hearts.  God is merciful and gracious.  He waits for us to return to Him.  In this season of Lent, we must do our best to return to God. None of us are perfect.  We all sin. However, sin is not the end of the story.  Sin is the villain in our story that we have to defeat.  We can only do this by living a holy life of prayer and reception of the Sacraments. These bring about a greater representation of Christ in the world. We begin to love God and our neighbor more and more.  We start to gain courage to face all trials.  Lent is a special time in the Church. We walk with Jesus in the desert, face temptation and walk out victorious with Christ Jesus.  The first readingreminds us the need to ask God for mercy; to spare His people!  We receive the ashes as a reminder of our mortality. Humans are just dust and to dust they shall return.  Scientifically speaking, we are carbon based lifeforms who are made of "star dust," as the late Carl Sagan famously stated. Our accomplishments, our intelligence, our capacity to reason should not make us feel pride as if we are gods on earth; we are not!  The ashes remind us of this.

We need mercy from God for we have sinned, as the responsorial Psalm says.  God is indeed mercy.  THere is no sin He will not forgive unless it is the sin against the Holy Spirit, or the sin of not trusting in God's mercy and avoiding it. Only God can cleanse us of our sins and guilt. Only God can create a pure heart in us and a steadfast spirit. We must take this time during Lent to call on God to have mercy on us so that we can proclaim His praise.  The second reading tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ.  We represent Christ in our state in life to others.  Therefore, we must be holy and humble.  We must be full of love and mercy.  This can only be done if we ar reconciled with God.  Jesus became the image of sin (human) but did not sin so that He could rescue us from sin.  We must not be ingrates and receive God's grace with humility and not vain. Ashes on our foreheads are not a trophy to show off to others.  They are a reminder that we aremere dust.  They give witnesses that we are nothing but dust before God and therefore must rely on Him and His mercy.

The Gospel today reminds us that our righteous deeds are not supposed to be for self-glorification or promotion. We must not "blow a trumpet" before ourselves in order to be looked upon as if we are religious celebrities. Instead, we must pray in private, do things in private whether it is giving to the poor or helping others.  In other words, we must not make a spectacle of our actions as if we need to be praised by others because we did good.  Praying and doing good must be directed towards God, not self-glorification. During Lent, we fast and abstain from meat. This may be hard for some of us. However, we must not walk around with gloomy faces so that others can see and focus on our misery as if we fast and abstain in order to feel pity from others or garner attention.  God will reward us for suffering in silence. Take this time during Lent to refocus your attention to God. Do things for His honor and glory, not your own.  Wear the ashes as a witness to your mortality and as a witness to your conversion to Christ. Do not wear them in order to show off as if the ashes cry out "Hey!, I am a Catholic."  This is not what Ash Wednesday is about. Remember to be humble. We are just dust, not gods. May Jesus Christ be praised!


Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030117.cfm



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