Ash Wednesday 6th March 2019

posted 6 Mar 2019, 05:58 by Parish Office

Homily for Ash Wednesday 2019


What are you planning to do for Lent?  You can, of course, take on more than just one thing.  Traditionally, there are three practices that we focus on, all of which are mentioned in today’s Gospel:  almsgiving, prayer and fasting.


Firstly almsgiving.  What are alms?  Not the things that stick out of your body and have a hand at the end; alms here is spelt A-L-M-S.  A dictionary definition could be giving money or food to the poor.  So almsgiving really means giving to those in need.


How much should we give?  Even if we won the lottery, we wouldn’t be able to solve all the world’s problems.  The demand will always outstrip what we are able to supply.  So a more useful guide is to give according to your means.  For some people, giving £5 would be far too much.  It may be that they only have £7 to last them to the end of the week, and they have to feed themselves and their family.  For others, who have an annual salary of around £100,000, £5 would be far too little.  But as Christ says, we also need to think about how we give.  What is my motivation?  Occasionally, when I hear about some particularly rich person giving a large sum of money to a particular worthy cause, I do hope the intention is not to show off.  Better to give discretely and then be found out, rather than have it trumpeted just how good you are.  This Lent, what changes do we need to make to our lives when it comes to almsgiving?  Are we too mean or too generous?  Do we give to make ourselves feel better, or because someone else is in need?


Prayer.  How is our prayer life?  Has it gone a bit stale?  It is a duty done grudgingly, or is it a joyful encounter with the Lord and Our Lady?  Do we pray too much, or do we pray too little?  Do we use prayer as an excuse for not doing the things we should be doing, or do we use the things that need doing as excuses for not praying?  Have we explored different ways of praying?  If not, then Lent can be a time to find out more.


Fasting.  There are only two days in the year when we are obliged to fast by the Church:  today and Good Friday.  Perhaps because fasting only comes round twice a year it means we get so worked up about it.  Christ tells us in the Gospel not to let anyone know we are fasting, and to act in a way so that no one knows that we are fasting.  Sometimes, though, it slips out.  Not just by being observed at mealtimes, but also if fasting makes us more short-tempered.  Following the papal visit in 2010, the Bishops of England and Wales decided to restore the previous discipline with regard to Fridays.  After Vatican II, it was decided that the bishops of each country could decide how Fridays should be marked in their territory.  So in this country, we were given the option of abstaining from meat, or choosing one of a list of other various options.  Some found it easiest to continue abstaining from meat, whilst others somehow heard that you were not obliged to abstain from meat, but didn’t hear the bit about doing something else instead.  So after the Pope visited in 2010, it was decided that we should all go back to abstaining from meat on Fridays as an act of common witness.  Just as we go to Mass on Sundays to celebrate the Resurrection, so we should abstain from meat as a way of commemorating Christ’s Crucifixion.


But why abstain from meat, and why fast?  Sometimes it is said that the money you save by fasting you should put into your Cafod envelope.  But if that is the only reason for fasting, then you could say, well, thank you but no thank you.  I’ll eat normally and just put some money in.  Why go to all that suffering?


Fasting and abstaining are not just about fundraising.  They are about expressing our sorrow for our sins and the sins of others.  They are about sharing in the sufferings of Christ on the Cross and offering something up for the salvation of souls.  When I was training for the priesthood, it was pointed out that Christ most probably did not eat between the Last Supper and His Death on the Cross.  When He was imprisoned overnight, there was no breakfast in the morning.  But in the first century AD, fasting was seen as the greatest prayer you could offer for sinners.  Of course, fasting also helps us to develop self-control over our instincts.  When we see the purpose of fasting and abstinence, then maybe we might take it up more often.  And then it won’t be such a great ordeal.


What are you planning to do for Lent?  Maybe if we look at the practices of almsgiving, prayer and fasting, we can find, if you will excuse the expression, much food for thought.