Ash Wednesday

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In a few moments we will have ashes marked on our foreheads as a sign that we are entering the Season of Lent. The ashes remind us of our mortality – we will return to the dust of the earth. They express penitence as we disfigure ourselves with the mark of ashes. They are a witness that we accept the call to deeper prayer, self-denial and good works which mark this season. Wearing the ashes says that I am willing to embrace the disciplines of Lent.

While we all would rather not engage in acts of mortification, we know we need to. We know we need some simple spiritual disciplines. We are aware that we tend to be self-indulgent in food, or drink, or comforts of one kind or another. We know that we need to have a time to take stock of the spiritual state of our life. We know we need to move away from the material to the spiritual.

Today we hear the Scriptures. The prophet Joel says what we expect prophets to say, speaking in the name of God he says: “come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning”. We know that this is what we need to do during Lent: we need to seek God more earnestly acknowledging our sinfulness. We need to be able to honestly ask for the forgiveness of God for our sins.

St Paul echoes this theme in the second reading: “be reconciled with God”. We are called upon to consider the quality of our relationship with God. We all know that we have taken God for granted. We all know that our love of God is pretty shallow.

And the Gospel reminded us that what we do is between each of us and God. We will not be parading our penitential actions. Lent will be something just between me and God.
So how will we engage in Lent this year? I am sure we have all thought about what we might do – what we will go without. It is good that we do this.

Today we launch Project Compassion in the Archdiocese. The Project Compassion boxes and envelopes have become a very familiar part of Lent. They remind us of the need to care for the poor. The theme this year is “Food for life”. Pope Francis reminds us of what we know only too well – the world is able to produce enough food, yet there are people dying of starvation.

Project Compassion this year gives the story of Eric and Ma and the work of Tutu training centre in Taveuni, one of the Fiji islands. I visited the centre last year and marvelled at the work being done there. Caritas through Project Compassion is able to do wonderful work. Our donations translate directly into changed lives. Let us resolve to give generously to Project Compassion.

This year I have written a Lenten Pastoral Letter. It will be available next Sunday. In it I have proposed that this Lent we walk the path of repentance.

Lent is a time for us to take stock of our lives. It is the time for us to pause and examine our lives and name our sins – not making any excuses or offering personal justifications. We need just to be able to say, “I have sinned”.

Then we are take this to the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, with a humble and contrite heart.

I mentioned it last year and I mention it again this year and I will probably mention it again next year: let us resolve to go to Confession before Easter.

Today we embrace this season of Lent. We are all moved to make Lent a time of inner renewal. We desire to make sacrifices for the good of others.

Lent is a remarkable time of grace. When we reach Easter let us rejoice to know that our Lenten sacrifice has produced good fruit.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Tuesday, 17 February 2015