• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

Ash Wednesday 2020 (A)

"Be reconciled to God. Behold, now is the acceptable time."

Entrance Antiphon: Wis 11:24, 25, 27 —“You are merciful to all, O Lord, and despise nothing that You have made. You overlook people’s sins, to bring them to repentance, and You spare them, for You are the Lord our God.”

First Reading: Jl 2:12-18 — “Rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14, 17 — “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”

Second Reading: 2 Cor 5:20-6:2 — “Be reconciled to God. Behold, now is the acceptable time.”

Alleluia: Ps 95:8 — “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

Gospel: Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 —“Your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Communion Antiphon: Ps 1:2-3 — “He who ponders the law of the Lord day and night will yield fruit in due season.”

We don’t have much day-to-day contact with ashes these days. And yet we gather once a year in great numbers to receive a cross of ashes on our foreheads. Many of the rituals of the Church link us to the customs and symbols of the many generations that have gone before us. Ashes might be one of those sacramentals. Here are a few images to ponder.

Wood ash was used by our pioneer forebears to make soap. The chemical reaction between the tallow (beef fat) and the ash created a harsh but effective soap for skin and clothes, providing much needed cleansing for people who worked hard in difficult and dirty conditions. In ancient cultures, ashes were used as a sign of mourning, a symbolic acknowledgement that the fires of life had left not only the one who had died but also those who were left to grieve. And of course the legend of the phoenix rising from the ashes of its predecessor is an ancient symbol of resurrection. So there you essentially have what Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are about ... mourning ... cleansing ... and ultimately resurrection at Easter ... the end of Lent.

One spiritual practice that might help you notice what your heavenly Father sees in secret (as we heard in the Gospel) is to do the daily examen as encouraged by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Like an examination of conscience preparing our souls for confession of sin, a daily examen of consciousness can routinely help us notice which direction we are headed. Today, when did I feel the most loved by God? ... When was I most loving? ... When was I least loving? ... When was I touched by grace? ... When did I close my heart and mind to God’s invitation? This daily examination can help all of us notice what God is doing and how we are responding, or not. Is our life “greening” like springtime or are we still lost in the deadness of winter?

We stand at the threshold of one of the holiest and most rigorous seasons of our church year. We are signed with the ashes of repentance, of awareness of our limitations, our need for conversion. But they are blessed ashes, holy ashes, and they hold also the promise of cleansing, protection, and most importantly, the promise of resurrection.

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