Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Joel 2:12-18
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Matthew 6:1-6;16-18


February 14, 2018, Ash Wednesday

When you receive your ashes in a few minutes, the minister will say Repent, and believe in the Gospel. The other option is something that people of my generation or older will recognize: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. I was never a big fan of that one because it too often is understood not just literally but as a finality. The Church uses ashes to usher in Lent not as a symbol of death or a morbid reflection on what happens to our bodies when we die but as a very ancient symbol of repentance.

Lent is not a time to beat ourselves up about all our sinful ways, nor is it a time to get depressed about our mortality. It is a time to repent. And to believe even more deeply in the Gospel. To get the right attitude towards Lent I would suggest we look at how baseball players look at spring training. Spring training is a time when the players submit to rigorous physical activity; they give up many of the pleasures of life that other people who make millions of dollars a year enjoy. And for the most part they look forward to spring training, entering into the hardships willingly so they might play better in the real season. Lent is the Church's spring training. At the Easter Vigil and the Easter season following, just here in the Boston Archdiocese, if previous years are a good predictor, some 500 adults will be initiated into the Catholic Church. These catechumens and candidates for full communion will profess the Creed and promise to live their lives as the priest, prophet and king they will be initiated as. As a Church we cannot ask them to do that if we are not already doing it ourselves. Lent is our preparation as a Church to be worthy to have these newly baptized or confirmed Catholics enter the Church. It is preparation for us to be able to renew our own baptismal vows on Easter and continue to live them out during the year. And to worthily welcome these new Catholics.

As some of you have heard me say countless times, to repent does not mean to dwell on our past sins, or even to do penance for them. Repent means to turn around. It is the translation of the Greek word metanoia which literally means a change of mind. When Jesus started off his public ministry by going around and saying, "Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand", he is calling us to turn our minds around. The physical metaphor is that if we are heading the wrong way then we need to turn and follow Jesus, who of course IS the kingdom of God.

In the culture spanning the writing of Joel to the Gospels, the heart is the symbol of the whole person. Lent does not call us simply to do certain things but first to convert our heart to discover Jesus and follow him. The Lenten practices will do us little good if we are just going through the motions. That is why Joel tells Israel that God wants them to return to Him with their whole heart. The three examples that Jesus uses say the same thing, that we should pray, fast, and do our works of charity because we have turned our hearts to God not because we want people to see how good we are.

So I pray that we all enter into our Lenten practices of fasting, praying and doing works of charity with one intent: to show that we are committed to turn our minds and hearts back to Jesus.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

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