Ash Wednesday Homily

Posted on 2nd March, 2022


2 March 2022


I confess that I find it hard to speak about Lent, especially on Ash Wednesday. My Lent has an awful tendency to be like the ashes. When we receive them, they show very darkly on the forehead. They’re visible and can easily draw the attention of others. But only a few hours later they will probably have faded to a faint shadow that will be washed off tonight before I go to bed.


My intentions of Lent today are real. I will do what I can to join my brothers here in supporting the CAFOD WALK FOR HUNGER. But my experience of last year reminds me that if it’s not for the support of the community, I will find it very difficult to keep up my present enthusiasm. I will stay off the whiskey. But my experience tells me that there will be more than one occasion in Lent that I will justify a little tiple on the side; St Patrick’s day, maybe, or an invitation by a friend who doesn’t practise Lent in the same way. That extra time for prayer I promised God I would take; well, you know – it was a long and busy day and I would surely be better getting to bed for a good rest so that I can do better tomorrow. And so on, for any resolution I take.


Often Lent ends up being hardly any different to the rest of the year: my enthusiasm and my commitment waxes and wanes.


We all know what the Gospel asks of us for this period of preparation for Easter: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But these are also virtues that we try to practise the whole year through. It is our way of life. In Lent we add some intensity to these practices in order to prepare ourselves for the intense week of Easter, from Palm Sunday to the Day of the Resurrection.


The Christian life, said St Augustine, “is an exercise of holy desire.” It does not ask that we suppress our normal desires, but to raise and purify them. We begin our Lent with holy desires. We heed the call of St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “Now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation”. We want to make our lives conform to the life of Christ, to be as God would have us be. and we know that the call is urgent: today. How much this terrible war in Ukraine reminds of us of the urgency of our conversion!

So, how do we keep those holy desires of Ash Wednesday burning and effective?


We need both action and prayer. The fasting, the alms-giving, the support of CAFOD, the Pax Christi Walk, are all actions. They are good in themselves and they are charitable. But they also need to be supported by prayer. Giving time to prayer in Lent is just as important as the actions and these actions are a fruit of my prayer. The two support each other and the two need each other for our Lent to be truly Christian.


And let us remember; that all of this is because we trust in the love and mercy of God our Father. He knows what is going on in our hearts. He knows our good intentions and that is what he wants above all. The prophet Joel knew this when he acclaimed:


“Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to the Lord you God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion.”


In God alone is our trust.


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