Gospel of Matthew 6:1-16, 16-19
Today marks the beginning of a journey. An annual journey that will end 6 weeks from now with our Easter celebration. Unlike other journeys on which we embark, journeys that begin with great anticipation and joy, this journey, our Lenten journey, begins with an atmosphere of sobriety and penitence. That is not to say that there is no joy in today’s somber observance, for as followers of Christ we are called to live joy filled lives; however, on this day, Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge that this journey is one which requires self-sacrifice and service.
Today is also unique in that we as Catholics take upon ourselves a visible sign of our faith. A sign that some, perhaps, would chastise and accuse us that in the very act of taking these ashes upon our forehead, we are in fact disobeying the very instructions of Jesus as outlined in today’s Gospel. I would, however, like to encourage you to confidently live out your faith this day, in the full understanding that the ashes you are about to receive are not a display of righteousness, rather the ashes you are about to receive are in fact a public display of penance and supplication.
Jesus warns his followers to avoid doing righteous deeds in order that others might see them. Receiving these ashes is not a righteous deed. Receiving these ashes is in fact a public statement of our desperate need for Christ’s redemption. As Catholics we are publicly, and in community, acknowledging our dependence upon the very grace of God which he has ordained for the salvation of many.
Finally, I would encourage you all here this day to take a moment and reflect upon the person sitting next to you here in this church. Remember them, their face, their passion, and their resolve, for not only are we as one community publicly acknowledging our need for salvation, but we are also acknowledging our dependence upon one another. Our Lenten journey should not be traveled alone. I assure you that at some moment in the next 6 weeks you will falter, struggle, or waffle in your commitment. You will encounter a person, an event, or a circumstance that will challenge your resolve and diminish your hope. And it is during those moments, those moments when our true self, and our true dependence upon the grace of God, come into crystal clear focus, I ask you to pray, and to look to one another for help.
Our public sign of penitence is not only a reminder of our human condition and our need for salvation, but it is also a beacon. A beacon to our Catholic brothers and sisters calling to them to be our aid in times of struggle. This Lenten Journey upon which this day we embark is not a lonesome journey. Rather, it is a journey to be traveled together, in both prayer and encouragement, one for another, as we eagerly anticipate the celebration to come.