How many times have you received ashes on your forehead and listened to the message of repentance and renewal that is proclaimed every Ash Wednesday?
How many times have you begun this Lenten journey with prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the practices which Christ talks about in the gospel this day?
So then, what is different about this Ash Wednesday, 2008, and what is different about this Lent, than every other one that has come before it? The answer, I believe, is found in our second reading, from St. Paul.
St. Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, to the church that he founded; to the church that he preached the gospel to, and taught the message of forgiveness and the mercy of God; about how Jesus Christ suffered and died for us on the cross to offer us everlasting life and an intimate relationship with Himself; to that church, and the men and women he loved, St. Paul offers a most serious and sober warning:
We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
—2 Corinthians 6:1
In other words, St. Paul is warning them—in love—not to listen to this great message of mercy and forgiveness, not to hear God’s offer of intimacy and love, and then fail to respond to it.
It would be better to have never heard of Christ and the gospel message, than to have heard and understood it and then live as if we do not belong to Him. Do not do that, St. Paul is warning them…and us.
Continuing, he goes on to quote the words of God to His people in the Old Testament, taken from the Prophet Isaiah:
In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.
And then, finally, he gives the answer to the question I asked at the beginning of this homily, about why this Ash Wednesday and this Lent is different from any other one before it, and why this moment is different for the church at Corinth than any other moment:
“Now,” says St. Paul, “is the very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.”
(2 Corinthians 6:2)
Now is the time that Christ is working in our lives.
Last year, last Lent, however well or poorly we responded to God, all that is over. We cannot change a single thing that has happened to this point.
But right now is the day of salvation, when Jesus Christ is calling us to Himself, to turn from sin and be faithful to the gospel.
Now we are called to respond to this great message of grace and mercy.
Now we are called to an intimate and growing relationship with God.
How are we called to pray, fast and give alms at this moment, at this time in our lives? How is God challenging us to make this Lent different by giving ourselves totally and completely to Him…