ASH WEDNESDAY REFLECTION ON THE THEME: “RETURNING TO THE LORD WITH OUR HEARTS IN THE SEASON OF GRACE.”
ASH WEDNESDAY REFLECTION ON THE THEME:
“RETURNING TO THE LORD WITH OUR HEARTS IN THE SEASON OF GRACE.”
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Tonight, we celebrate Ash Wednesday to begin the church’s Season of Lent this year. Tonight, we join Catholics and other Christians the world over to begin a 40-day pilgrimage of faith, a pilgrimage which will culminate in the commemoration of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter. We have gathered in God’s presence to express our need of God’s mercy and forgiveness by participating in a corporate act of penance and reconciliation, beseeching God for the grace to use this favourable time to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s passion at Easter.
Ash Wednesday is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards God who is the fount of mercy, a pilgrimage in which He himself accompanies us, sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter. [It is a season of change of heart, perspectives and focus].
THE LENTEN PERIOD IS FORTY  DAYS. WHY?
Lent is a period of 40 days, beginning from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday without counting the Sundays of the period. This is because Sunday is a special day; the day of the Lord’s Resurrection. The number 40 is always a symbolic number in the Bible. It symbolizes devotion, discipline and preparation. It also stands for a long period of time. Let me share with you a few examples of the symbolism of 40 in the Bible.
In the Old Testament:
The flood of Noah’s time through which God washed away the evil of the earth lasted for 40 days (Gen. 8:6). Moses stayed with God on Mt. Sinai for 40 days when collecting the Ten Commandments
(Exodus. 24:18; 34:28). The Hebrews stayed in the desert for 40 days during which time they learnt the faithfulness of God (Exodus 16:35; Num. 14:34; Ps. 58:3, Deut. 8:6). When Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh, he said God had given them forty days to repent (Jon. 3:1ff); Elijah, fleeing from evil Jezebel, was fed by God and in the strength of this food, he journeyed 40 days and nights to meet God on Mt. Sinai (1 Kings 19:8).
Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the desert and overcame temptation and sin before beginning his public ministry [Matt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13]. These few examples from the Bible teach us about the significance of 40 – symbol of long period, discipline and devotion.
Lent is a Period of Instruction: For this reason, the Lenten readings have been chosen carefully to help our faith to grow, and our faith will indeed grow if we listen more attentively to God’s word, allow it to make a judgment on our lives, change and come back to the Lord. Throughout this season, the readings will help us to reflect on the themes of faith, conversion, and “metanoia,” turning back to a God who loves us and waits for us.
Today’s first reading is from Joel, a prophet of God who preached to the Israelites on the importance of conversion, prayer and charity, about 400 years before the birth of Christ. In our passage tonight, he invites the Israelites and indeed all of us, to come back to God with fasting, weeping and mourning so that God can spare His people in their sins. In times of difficulties and at all times, we need to beseech God with all seriousness and faith and Lent offers us this chance. Let all of us make good use of this opportunity.
In the 2nd reading, St. Paul urges his Corinthian converts and all of us to be reconciled to God and one another in order to obtain more graces for the spiritual journey. Reconciliation with God is achieved through repentance and conversion. Paul says there is no need to procrastinate for this is the acceptable time, the day of salvation. Let us not allow the season to pass us by but let us seize the opportunity to reconcile with one another so that Easter will meet us ready and prepared to celebrate the joy of Christ’s resurrection.
In the Gospel [from Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18], Jesus speaks about the three  important religious duties prescribed by the law: Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Jesus stresses that what is important is not the
ritualistic observance of these duties, but the interior disposition that should accompany them, for the practice of religious acts devoid of spiritual dispositions is meaningless.
Dear Friends in Christ,
In the course of this season of Lent, the church invites us to pray more fervently, fast more regularly and gives alms more generously. The church encourages us to undertake with pious exuberance these and many other Christian acts to ask for God’s mercy and goodness and grace. These acts constitute efforts at lifting the spiritual aspects of our lives to God, for him to renew us once more and restore us to holiness which is the vocation of all who are Christians. Do not be left out, stay on course, be “in via,” so that when we finally meet him, your heart will rejoice. Forty days is long enough period for any serious religious preparation and undertaking. Let us be encouraged to pray more, fast more and do more charity. They will not be in vain: God will shower his blessings and favor on us abundantly.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, tonight, all of us will receive ashes on our foreheads to remind us of two things:-
(i) Mortality and death. The symbolism is that we are dust and unto dust we shall return [Gen. 3:17]. The sign is the same for all of us: man and woman, baptized and unbaptised, young and old. We are all being reminded that we are human and one day, we will die. The imposition of ashes therefore is an invitation to change and return to the Lord with all our hearts.
(ii) Penance and Forgiveness. The Israelites often showed their repentance and entreated God’s mercy and forgiveness by sitting in ashes and sackcloth. We cannot sit in sackcloth but the ashes on our foreheads should help us renounce our evil inclinations and seek God’s forgiveness.
Among the Dagaabas of Northern Ghana, ashes are used for a variety of purposes. Permit me to share with you a few of these purposes, for I believe that the symbolism of the use of ashes among
the Dagaabas impinge on why the Church makes use of ashes at the beginning of her Lenten journey. Among the Dagaabas, ashes are used:-
- To announce the funeral to one who has lost a dear one. The ashes are used to hold or touch the person. Ashes come from fire (hot) but now cold. May your ‘hot situation’ become cold like these ashes. Ashes are used to comfort.
- When people are fighting, ashes are thrown between them or on them. The one who throws the ashes is a mediator and calls to an end the fight or quarrel. When this happens, the fighting must stop. Ashes bring peace.
- Ashes are used to mark out a sacred place, a holy ground. They are used to circle a spot, thus making it fit for sacrifice. Ashes sanctify.
- Ashes are used on the entrance to buildings and groves and also on people, to ward off evil spirits. Ashes liberate and protect.
- Ashes are used on widows. At the end of the funeral period, they are washed and become new again. Ash purifies.
- Ashes are used for seasoning vegetables, to make them soft. Ash humbles us and teaches us humility.
- Ashes are used to store beans from getting bad. Ash preserves from evil.
- Ashes are used to clean silver bowls, plates and cups. Ashes cleanse us.
May the Good Lord, who has given us another Season of Lent, protect us in our struggle against evil, and through our Lenten discipline and self-denial, help us to lead holy lives from today and throughout our life on earth. May God bless all of us. Amen.
REV. FR. EMMANUEL ABBEY-QUAYE
ST. JAMES PARISH, OSU [13 FEB. 2013]