Deacon Cornell’s Homily


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


March 2, 2022, 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.

As many 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 we are heading the wrong way and we need to turn and follow Jesus, who of course is the kingdom of God.

Here is one way that I like to think about being marked with ashes. It is like a brand that is used to identify who owns a particular member of the flock or herd. Ashes remind me that I belong to the one who took dust and created me. And like any livestock that gets lost, my brand can help me return to where I belong.

As we were reminded by our readings last Sunday, we are called by our baptism, not to DO something but to BE something, actually someONE. In today's Gospel, Jesus calls us to be different from those who focus on doing the things that pious people are expected to do in order to impress or win the approval of those around them. The inner room Jesus instructs us to go into is the very heart of our being. It is our hearts, our core, our essence that we are called to change during Lent. Once we let God's love and forgiveness transform us more fully into the image of God who is love, our prayer, our fasting, and our works will flow naturally and effectively from who we are becoming. And as Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, we are becoming the righteousness of God through Christ.

So I pray that we all enter into our Lenten practices of fasting, praying and doing works of charity with one intent: to turn our minds and hearts over to Jesus, so that we might truly be the Body of Christ here and now.

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

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