Remember you are Dust and Unto Dust you shall return
Ash Wednesday 6 March 2019
Saint Peter Chrysologus (400-450)
Bishop of Ravenna, Father & Doctor of the Church
Sermon 8 ; CCL 24, 59 ; PL 52, 208
Exercises for Lent: Almsgiving, Prayer, Fasting
My dear brethren, today we set out on the great Lenten journey. So let us take our food and drink along in our boat, putting onto the chest the abundant mercy we shall need. For our fasting is a hungry one, our fasting is a thirsty one if it isn’t sustained by goodness and refreshed by mercy. Our fasting will be cold, our fasting will flag, if the fleece of almsgiving doesn’t clothe it, if the garment of compassion does not wrap it around.
Brethren, what spring is for the land, mercy is for fasting – the soft, spring winds cause all the buds on the plains to flower; the mercy of our fast causes all our seeds to grow until they blossom and bear fruit for the heavenly harvest. What oil is to the lamp, goodness is to our fast. As the oily fat sets the lamp alight and, in spite of so little to feed it, keeps it burning to our comfort all night long, so goodness makes our fasting shine – it casts its beams until it reaches the full brightness of self-restraint. What the sun is to the day, almsgiving is to our fast: the sun’s splendour increases the light of day, breaking through the dullness of the clouds; almsgiving together with fasting sanctifies its holiness and, thanks to the light of goodness, dispels from our desires anything that could petrify. In short, what the body is for the soul, generosity acts similarly for the fast: when the soul leaves the body it brings about death; if generosity abandons the fast, it is, its death.
A very special day.
The ashes we use are the burnt palms from last year’s celebration of Passion Sunday.
We begin our Lenten journey aware of where we are going.
We want to enter into the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus for us more fully.
That is the purpose of our journey. It is why we mark our heads with His cross.
It is why we fast today and abstain from meat.
Our Lenten program is not an effort to save ourselves.
We have been saved by His sacrifice.
Our self-denial helps us, in the darkness that surrounds us,
to prepare ourselves to receive His light.
For this is a journey to the Easter font,
where we will renew the promises of our Baptism,
remembering that in dying with Him in the waters of Baptism,
we are re-born with Him to everlasting life.
This year’s journey begins today.
Yet even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
it feels like we are embarking
on a Lenten journey together, You and I.
Today, we are invited to let the Holy Spirit
purify our hearts and strengthen us in love.
That feels like what I am looking for –
or what You are looking for in me.
I want to remember how much I need You in my life
and how much my life needs redemption.
I want to remember it clearly and
in the background of my day, today and all through Lent.
On this special day, Ash Wednesday,
may my small sacrifices in fasting be a way to clear away
the clutter in my life to see You more clearly.
May my longing for meat and other food,
help me to focus my life today more outside myself.
Let me be aware of those,
who are in so much more suffering, than I am
and may I be aware of them,
as the brothers and sisters, You have placed in my life.
Lord, I know there is darkness within me and around me.
Bless these days with Your Word.
Let Your Light shine in the darkness.
Help me long for that shining Light
until we celebrate it at the Vigil, six weeks from now.
And most of all Lord,
help me to honour this day with the ashes on my forehead.
They help me remember where I have come from
and where I am going.
May I acknowledge to You my sins
and my deep need for Your loving forgiveness and grace.
I pray that this Lenten season will make me so much more aware
of how much I need Your love and care in my life.
May the Lord bless us,
protect us from all evil
and bring us to everlasting life.
“The Lord, who always goes before us, said this and did this (Jn 12:24). Whenever we experience the cross, He has already experienced it before us. We do not mount the cross to find Jesus. Instead it was He who, in His self-abasement, descended even to the cross, in order to find us, to dispel the darkness of evil within us and to bring us back to the light.”
(at the Canonisation of Saints Francisco and Jacinta on 14 May 2017)