Summary: Ash Wednesday gives us what may be our last Lenten opportunity to repent and turn back to God.
Ash Wednesday Homily 2010
2 Cor 5:20 - 6:2
The great bell called St Ferdinand at our diocesan cathedral tolls solemnly several times each month. Many years ago I heard the toll as my father’s casket was slowly pushed out toward its ultimate resting place. Each day the low sound of bells sound from Haiti to Hong Kong, from Reykjavik to Rio. Another soul committed by the Church to God. “Who?”, we sometimes ask. And, if we are truly perceptive, our mind hears the admonition of John Donne: “therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
When shall we turn our whole face to God and admit our sin? When shall the ashes about to be placed on our face be smeared on our weak hearts? I’m afraid that our own vices, even our own embarrassment, often causes both ourselves and the Church to rely on some deathbed conversion, some last-minute arrival of the sacred 7th cavalry, the hospital chaplain, to rescue us from the evil forces that surround us. There we will moan out our confession of the pornography addiction, the long-term state of adultery, the tax evasion, or the gossip. There we hope we aren’t on a breathing machine so we can repent of the neglect of our parents, the cavalier way we treated our Mass obligations, the sterilization, or the abortion that has plagued our consciences for decades. There we pray we are not in a coma so we can confess the hundreds of times we have approached the Blessed Eucharist in mortal sin, and by that sacrilege pounded yet another nail into the coffin surrounding the soul that God destined for eternal union with Himself.
That’s the plan, anyway. But it doesn’t always work out as we planned. Sudden and unprepared death–that’s what the litany prays against. I sold life insurance for many years, and since that time I have presided at many funerals. Few of those souls knew when they were going to die. The elderly grandmother didn’t know that her grandson was going to kill her for some drug money. The three boys I gave diplomas to didn’t know that their six or eight beers were going to put them in head-on collisions that ended their lives. The victims of drowning or heart attacks or cerebral hemorrhages took their ashes the previous Lent and heard the words “remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” but did they repent of their sin and confess it and walk away free of their spiritual bondage?
We cannot answer for them. We can only trust in the infinite goodness of our Savior for them. But for ourselves this moment is the moment of decision. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” Today, let the ashes be ashes on our hearts, signs of our willingness to confess our sins, do penance, amend our lives and sin no more. Let us resolve before the week is up, if we know we have seriously offended God, to come to confess our sins and let God’s grace change our lives. The God who gave His only-begotten Son over to an unjust execution, a sacrifice for sin, does not want your precious soul to be lost. If next Ash Wednesday you are one of those who have been committed to the earth this next year, resolve now that your soul will be in the loving, forgiving hands of almighty God. Let this be the resolution you take with the ashes. And let us now all pray the act of repentance: O my God, I am heartily sorry for