Today’s homily is for Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. Sorry that this didn’t get out yesterday…but now is still a good time. 🙂
Remember: From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return. That is where we’re from and that is where we’re going. There’s no escape. Thomas Paine said, “There is nothing more certain that death, and nothing more uncertain than its hour.” The question is not a matter of whether or not we will die, but where we’re going when we do.
The formula for Catholics seems simple enough: come from the dust, get ashes, pray, fast, give alms, return to the dust. That is life on this earth. The from the dust and back to dust is a simple enough concept to grasp, but can be very difficult to appreciate from moment to moment, and so the ashes are a reminder. We receive these ashes and hear the words, “Remember, From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.” I think on Ash Wednesday we should have a sign above the entrance to the Church that reads, “Y.O.L.O.” You know what that means, right? It means, You Only Live Once. My students used to say it as an excuse for not living right! I said, “Johnny, it looks like you didn’t study for your test at all! You got an F,” to which he replied, “YOLO,” to which I relied, “Yep, you got an F and failed the class…YOLO.”
Each of us, upon hearing the truth of our mortality and the brevity of life should think, “Man, time is running out, I need to get my act together! The Psalmist tells us that God is merciful! But we must repent. We must desire to change our ways. We must turn away from sin and toward God, our Savior.
But why prayer, fasting and alms? All sin is personal, but no sin is private. My brokenness–my anger, addictions, and perversions are my issues, but they don’t just affect me. They affect everyone around me! My dad’s alcoholism, drug addictions, and violence affected me and our family. His personal sin affected all of us. God calls us to love him above all else, and to love our neighbor as our self. Whenever we sin, we sin three times. We offend God whom we are called to love and follow. We offend our self and who we are becoming by these wrongful actions, and we sin against our neighbor, whom we are called to love.
When we pray we repair the damage between ourselves and God. When we fast, we discipline ourselves and deny our primal and worldly urges, and when we give alms, we are generous with the community that we have affected by our sin. So we pray, fast, and give alms to help remedy, or make right what we have made wrong through our sin. But Jesus warned people in his own day and we need the reminder in ours – don’t do it for show and to impress others or to gain their sympathy…do if for God! God sees and he repays. But if you’re looking for attention from others…well, you’ll probably get it, but you’ll get nothing from God.
So, Lent is a 40-day boot camp where we get right with God, Self, and neighbor. It starts with Ashes today, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, where we die to our unhealthy wants, unhealthy relationships, and those things that cause sin so that we can rise with Jesus at Easter. We rise with him so that we can live with him forever. Remember, from dust you have come, and to dust you shall return. Y.O.L.O.