Mass for Ash Wednesday Year A 2023 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 50(51):3-6, 12-14, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Dear brothers and sisters,
I love the challenges of Lent, which I find invigorating even though they also expose my weakness and vulnerability. I remember an episode in the popular Irish sitcom Father Ted in which the priests of the neighbouring parishes decide to enter a giving-up-for-Lent competition. They begin enthusiastically and then experience hallucinations when the old cravings set in. I can resonate with them.
Lent reminds us that we don’t need to be stuck in old ways of thinking and acting. Renewal is possible. I can hit the reset button. We don’t need to wait for old age to magically impart a new perspective on what matters most and why.
In a culture that glorifies excess and indulgence, hubris and bravado, Wednesday’s ashes signify an outrageously counter-cultural act of humility. Lent is the most brutally realistic liturgical season of the year — it’s a time when we tell the truth about ourselves, our brokenness, our mortality, and nevertheless trust in God’s redemptive love. We celebrate the gift of life with all its blessings and sorrows.
“Let your hearts be broken and not your garments torn”. The prophet Joel insists that the outward signs must be accompanied by a real interior renewal. A change of heart, a change of attitude, a change in the way we relate to one another. As the community of faith, we must have the courage to see how far we have strayed from the core values of the Gospel and to face up to the task of metanoia, that is, repenting of our sins and converting to the person and message of Christ. Only then can we the Church be a headlight in leading others and the community on the path of justice, restoration and wholeness.
This Lenten season is an opportunity for the whole Church to show repentance and contrition for our sins and failures as individuals and as a community. We are summoned to a discipleship of humility, weakness and vulnerability, of dying and rising in Christ. We are challenged to remove the heart of stone and to have the heart of flesh instead. We need to put the powerlessness and the divine pathos of the humble Servant Jesus front and centre. As a church, we cannot move forward until we have fully embraced Christ’s radical call to abandon the culture of privilege, self-interest and security in favour of the wholesome relational discipleship and compassionate embrace of our suffering brothers and sisters.
The focus of Lent is not to give up certain things, to give away our surpluses and then to feel good about ourselves. Pope Francis says “I distrust the charity that costs nothing and doesn’t hurt”. Instead, he appeals to us to imitate Christ who became poor to make us rich. That means we have to live every day the self-emptying love of Christ. It is this divine compassion that makes us give not only our resources but our very selves. This is how, as St Paul says in the second reading, we can become ambassadors for Christ.
Project Compassion is about us becoming ambassadors for Christ. It’s a tradition that is unique to Catholic parishes and schools across Australia. It’s a means to support the building of a better world, beginning with small steps. This year’s theme is “For all Future Generations” reminding us of our commitment to align the future of our human family and our planet to God’s purposes. Let us walk alongside those whose lives are threatened by poverty, conflict and injustice, and enable them to attain a life full of human dignity.
Attending to our practices of prayer, fasting and self-denial – turning eyes and hearts from our self-absorption and casting our gaze toward others – is at the heart of the Lenten journey. These practices occur in the life of the community even when scattered and are transformative for moving from tragedy to hope. These practices can transform the wounds into transformative freedom in Jesus Christ.
On the Lenten journey, we are invited to pause to attend to our brokenness and our wounds. Sharing the prayers, fasting and self-denial – turn our eyes toward others – lead to understanding, healing and forgiveness which help us be prepared for Easter. Generosity is what saved and continues to save the world. God’s generosity is the gift of Jesus Christ. It is God’s giving to us what saves us. Gratitude and justice for all in need – is the invitation of Ash Wednesday.
Let us reclaim the Church as a refuge for the poor, an oasis for the weary and a hospital for the wounded. May we through the discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving acquire a new heart and a new spirit. Then like the people of the covenant, we too shall emerge revitalised and become the sacrament of God’s compassion and care for the least and the last. May we be nurtured by the love of God and persevere in our journey from death to life.
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