Deacon Cornell’s Homily


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


March 6, 2019, Ash Wednesday

Little Susie went to her father on Ash Wednesday, and asked him if she could have $5 for Lent. Her father looked at her quizzically and asked why she wanted $5 for Lent. "I am going to give up candy for Lent," Susie replied. "I still don't understand what that has to do with the $5," responded her father. The girl explained, "We're supposed to give up something that would tempt us really bad, aren't we?" "Yes," her father said. "Well," Susie said, "Without the $5 I wouldn't have any money to buy candy so it really wouldn't be tempting!"

Fasting, prayer and almsgiving have been traditional ways of drawing closer to God since long before Jesus told his disciples how to fast, pray and give alms. The passage we heard from the book of Joel as our first reading was written some 800 years before Jesus was born. But as Jesus tells us, how we fast, pray or give alms is just as important as doing those things.

Lent is a penitential season but it is not meant to be a sad, or sorrowful season. While it may happen that our lenten practices may remind of us past sins or things that we need to improve our relationship with God, it is much more focused on the the resulting joy we will have when we strengthen or deepen our relationship with Christ. As the prophet Joel puts it, repentence is turning around, and coming back to the Lord. Our focus in Lent is not on what our failings have been or what we have done in the past but it is forward, to Easter and the resurrection that Jesus has promised we will share in. In fact Lent is a 40 day retreat for the whole Church to prepare us do two things on Easter. The first is to welcome all the new Catholics who will celebrate their sacraments of initiation at the vigil and the following Easter season. To be even more precise, it is a retreat that prepares us to be worthy of asking our catechumens and candidates for full communion with the church to make their baptismal vows and live them. it would be hypocritical to ask them to do that if we are not. The second is so that we mean what we say when we renew our own baptismal vows at the Easter vigil or at Mass on Easter Sunday. Renewing our baptismal vows reminds us that in baptism we have died to our false selves in the tomb of the water of the font, and we have risen from that water, that tomb to live our life in Christ.

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, or whole self, to rediscover Jesus and follow him. That is what it means to repent. 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, and to live our lives by loving God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, and sharing God's love with one another.

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

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