• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

Ash Wednesday 2021

“Your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

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.”

Welcome to the season of Lent. In a little bit you will have ashes sprinkled onto your heads ... no crosses on your forehead this year thanks to COVID-19. In the past, this sign might have told folks at the grocery store and the gas station that, for today, at least, you are a Christian ... that you’re Catholic … and even though it isn’t even a Holy Day ... maybe you wanted people to know. Perhaps in the past, when people saw you coming with crosses on foreheads, stores made a mental note that Easter is coming, and maybe they should stock up on jellybeans and marshmallow peeps!

But this year, the obvious fact that on Ash Wednesday you are Catholic, and the public evidence of your Lenten practice, is not as obvious. Once again, thank the COVID-19 pandemic for that reality. However, as Saint Paul tells us, “We are ambassadors for Christ. Now begins the ‘acceptable time’” Saint Paul spoke about that to the people of Corinth and he also speaks that to each one of us today. And in the Gospel, Jesus has much to tell His disciples who walked with Him over 2,000 years ago (and to all of us here in 2021) about how to mark the 40-day marathon that stretches out before us.

Jesus is quite firm about the qualities of genuine penance. He clearly describes three (3) practices: charitable good deeds (almsgiving), prayer, and fasting. And all of these are to be done in secret.

Secrecy seems to be key because it reveals our true motive. Ask yourselves, in years past, did we want everyone to see our foreheads on Ash Wednesday? Were we trying to prove something? Did we want everyone to find ashes on our foreheads all during Lent? If so, why? What was our motive? Did we want to try to impress our friends with our resolve? Were we wanting and looking for a gold medal in the Lenten marathon? As a Christian or as a Catholic, you shouldn’t be looking for any of those things. Remember what the Gospel tells us three times: “And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

And so, Jesus instructs His disciples to keep a secret Lent: stealthy kindnesses and sneaky generosity, silent prayer, and a fast that you don’t talk about. Think about it. [PAUSE] “We are ambassadors for Christ ... be reconciled to God ... now is a very acceptable time ... charitable deeds done so no one knows what you’ve done ... prayer in your inner room with no one watching and with no fanfare ... and fasting done so that only God and you know what you’re doing.” If you remember the Nike challenge of 1988, apply it to what we hear in today’s New Testament readings. In other words, “Just do it!” ... “and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

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