Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why are you here? Homily for Ash Wednesday

Why are you here today?  This is similar to a question that Jesus asked those who would go out to see John the Baptist.

As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’ Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. Whoever has ears ought to hear. “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”
So I ask you again, why are you here?  Did you come today to because you were told it is a Holy Day of Obligation? It is not. There are days that reflect upon the life of our Savior and his Blessed Mother that are holy days when we ought to attend Mass.

Are you here to receive ashes? What does that mean? Today, many Catholics will hear the question, "Do you know you have something on your forehead?" For some, they think we've forgotten to wash our faces.  We can get our face dirtied by digging a hole. It is more than getting dirt upon ourselves.

Early in the Church, when one would go to confession, it would usually happen only once in their lives and it would be public. The penance would also be public. Penitents would be in front of the church dressed in itchy sack cloth. They would be required to stand and sit on ashes. The ashes are a lot different from the ashes we place upon our foreheads today. Think about the rough ashes from a fireplace. They are much more course. They would make small cuts through the skin. It was not comfortable. This penance would be a sign to others of a true understanding of the need to turn away from sin and the desire to return to the gospel.

Why are you here today?  I hope it is because you understand the need for conversion in your lives.  That you are not simply following through on a family tradition, but that you will make this season a time of transformation in your lives.

In today's gospel, Jesus gives us some direction on what we ought to be doing; praying, fasting and giving alms.  Last year I spent a little time breaking down these concepts.  I hope they are things that allow us to work on changing our lives.

Why did people go out into the desert looking for John the Baptist? I'll bet for many it was out of curiosity. As they came out, some started on the path of conversion. Others simply went away after hearing his message. They lived the life they wanted to live, not the life of conversion.

As you are here today I ask you one more time, why are you here?
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