Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ash Wednesday

Last evening's proper reading for the Memorial of Saint Casimir contains the stirring line from Saint Paul to the Christian community at Phillipi: "What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ."  What a fitting segue to Lent!  May we consider all else rubbish besides living a good and holy Lent, aimed and knowing Jesus more intimately through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  May we discard all else but what is from God and what leads us back to God.

Please visit for all the homilies of Lent by Father Matthew.

Ash Wednesday Homily

Ash Wednesday
March 5, 2014

The holy season of Lent is the very acceptable time to pause for spiritual inventory and renewal.  Lent is a grand retreat for the whole Church.  We step back from the ordinary to spend a little time amid somber d├ęcor and music, abandoning the Alleluia and the Gloria, as if going out into the desert like the first monastic communities to seek a deeper experience of the Lord in silence and emptiness.  This is the moment given to us by the Church each year to examine our consciences and repent of all our sins, so we can experience the happiness of the one whose offense is forgiven (Psalm 32).  These are the sacred forty days when we commit ourselves to prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  In so doing we discipline ourselves to think less of the self and its cravings and more of the needs of the poor.  Prayer deepens the relationship with God begun in Baptism and renewed each year at the Easter Mass.  By our Lenten observance we are prepared to accept once again the baptismal promise to reject sin and believe in God. 

We are ambassadors for Christ and effective ambassadors need to know the mind of the one they represent.  Putting on the mind of Christ means deepening our conversation with the Lord in prayer, in particular prayerful contemplation of the Word of God, disciplining our wills and looking outward to serve the poor in our midst.  Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the traditional Lenten observances, taken from today’s Gospel, which serve to make us more like Christ whom we serve.

In the reading today from the prophet Joel, the Lord demands a public observance of penance: “blow the trumpet…proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble he elders…”  In contrast are the words of Christ: “do not blow a trumpet before you…do not be like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in synagogues and on street corners…do not look gloomy like the hypocrites…that they may appear to others to be fasting.”  This is one of those instances when we perceive a contradiction between the Old and New Testament readings.  Should we proclaim a public fast or should we quietly go about our spiritual discipline?  Should we perform charity only privately or as part of a worldwide Church through organized efforts like Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities?  Should we wash our faces or dirty them with ashes? 

Catholicism looks at theology and the spiritual life through a valuable “both/and” lens.  Catholicism is not divisive but inclusive.  In this way, we appreciate the significance of both public and private devotion.  The Church calls a fast and summons the congregation to observe Lent as a worldwide faith community.  As Catholics, we have an obligation to follow the norms of spiritual discipline established by the Church.  In fact, it is one of the Precepts of the Church – one of the basic “house rules” of our family of faith – that we abide by the laws of fast and abstinence during Lent. 

Another Precept of the Church is to financially support the work of the Church, including her charity to the poor.  This includes generous support of the parish, diocesan and national collections devoted to the work of serving the needy and marginalized.  It is our obligation as disciples of Christ to support the work of the worldwide Church, as she is the face of Christ to those most in need. 

Public prayer is obviously essential to our Catholic life, especially the Mass.  Without the Eucharist, we would be detached from Christ and deprived of spiritual nourishment.  Life without the Eucharist is like a fish on dry land!  Attending Sunday and Holy Day Mass is a third Precept of the Church. 

At the same time, the Lord reminds us that spiritual things are never to be done out of a prideful desire to be seen as “holy.”  If we are fasting, we cannot justify complaining that we’re hungry.  We need to quietly endure the little moments of suffering that Lenten discipline brings for the sake of Christ and the poor otherwise the sacrifice is without merit.  It is good to show an example of prayer to others but the real reason to pray is to please God, never to win the esteem of others.  Father Kurt, our seminary rector, was fond of saying: “Don’t pray to be seen but it is good to be seen praying.”  When we give to the poor, it is for more than a tax write-off or to be seen by our friends as generous.  Quietly going about the performing of our duties and penances in order to honor the Lord and build up the lives of the less fortunate is a sacrifice holy and pleasing in the sight of God. 

So, Lent is about the attitude as much if not more than the actions themselves.  We are obliged to participate in the public life of the Church.  More importantly, however, the Lord calls us to interior conversion of mind and heart.  Ashes are an outward sign of this interior conversion we undertake in Lent.  They remind us that we belong to Christ and called to change our lives – from the inside – to be more like His. 

May this holy season draw us closer to the heart of Christ through our obedience to the Church and our humble prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Thus may we come to the joy of Easter with renewed hearts and lively devotion to him who loves us beyond measure. 


1 comment:

Glenn said...

Excellent sermon Father Albright. I especially like how you mention the both/and of Catholicism and how it relates to the reason for publicly displaying ashes. Not only does it cause others to think about Lent (or at leaast Ash Wednesday), but we should treat it as a personal promise to repentance.