“Repent and Believe” - Ash Wednesday 2018

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > “Repent and Believe” - Ash Wednesday 2018

Today, as the ashes are placed on our foreheads, we are reminded of the first expression of Christ’s preaching: “Repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is close at hand.” The ashes are marks of our desire to enter this penitential season. They are signs that we heed the call to embrace penance and self-denial. They are expressions of our awareness that we need to return to the essence of our faith. We need to repent and believe. Or, as the formula in the distribution of ashes will attest, “Turn from your sins and believe in the Gospel”.

The alternative formula from more ancient times reminds us of the virtue of compunction: the remembrance of death and the awareness of judgement, “Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” Yes, life is transitory. All that engages us is passing. Only one thing endures, our soul, our immortal soul. The salvation of our soul is in fact our life’s vital work.

Ash Wednesday is indeed salutary. It is a day that strangely attracts us, because we know that it draws us to basic truths about human life: mortality, judgement, conversion, repentance.

Each Ash Wednesday we are invited to hear again the essential message of the Gospel. We are reminded of this perennial call coming from the mouth of Christ. They are words that we have heard many times. But they are words we need to hear again and again. We need to not only hear them but to heed them.

Thus, today is a day which is strangely replete with grace. We find ourselves needing to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday. We know we need to have ashes places on our foreheads. We know we need to hear the message of repentance. We know we need to examine our lives and priorities in the light of the Gospel. We know we need to face our sinfulness. We know we need to impose some spiritual disciplines on ourselves.

Ash Wednesday is salutary. Our engagement in this liturgy today, we know, is good for our soul.

“Repent and believe.” Let us briefly consider these two crucial words in the opening proclamation of the Lord.

The first word, “repent”, is a word that sticks in the throat of modern people. In an age that has lost a sense of sin, most do not see any need for repentance. It can be useful to understand that the Greek word metanoia implies a redirection of one’s life. Essentially repentance means turning towards God and turning away from a life focused on this world and on ourselves. It is a decision to choose God’s way and not our own.

Many of us would consider that we have already chosen this way. And indeed we have. But the call to repentance is always relevant. The Lord calls us to deeper conversion to His way. We know that we have wayward hearts. We know that we are self-willed. We know that we do not surrender totally to God.

The call to repentance remains a constant in our lives. The more we heed the call the more we move our lives under the protection and guidance of God, the more we will find true peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The second word, “believe”, is also important. Once again we can say that we believe. We believe in God. We are Catholics after all. We are at Mass today. However, faith is a dynamic and not just a static reality. The man who said to the Lord, “I believe but help my unbelief,” expressed an important truth. We believe but we have a lack of belief as well.

For example, how much do we really trust God? Do we rely upon ourselves and only seek God’s help when things go wrong? Do I seek the will of God for my life, or am I content to do what I want with my life?

To believe in God is actually a radical thing. It is to entrust ourselves and our futures completely into God’s hands. Jesus expressed his own understanding of this when He said, “I have not come to do my own will, but the will of the One who sent me.”

How often do we place our lives and our decisions before the Lord and ask what is God’s will in this matter? We can so limit our lives but only doing what we want. We keep God at arm’s length.

So what is the essence of the message of Christ? It is to realise that God’s Kingdom is close at hand and that the Lord invites us to embrace the reality of this Kingdom and enter it more fully. We, each of us, need to repent and to believe. This is an ongoing call for each of us. As Christians we can never say that we have arrived. We are being constantly called forth to the more.

Lent invites us to hear the essential message of the Lord again: “Repent and believe.”

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Wednesday, 14 February 2018