Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday homily

As we all know, today begins Lent.

During Lent, we strip down,
we clear out the extras.
Look around church—things are sparser.
That’s what we do with our lives.
That’s why we eat less food today.
Why we go without meat today and on Fridays.

Maybe you will give up candy, or dessert,
Or something else you like, for Lent.

You might wonder why we do this?
Well, we do it for several reasons.

We do it as a sign that we are sorry;
And that we want to change.

The very act of self-denial itself changes us.

If you go without ice cream, or candy,
During Lent—you may find, at the end,
It isn’t so important to you after all!

If you decide, during Lent,
to pray some extra prayers,
You may find
you’ll keep praying them, ever after!

If you decide, during Lent,
to be more helpful to others—
That can only help make you
a more generous and caring person.

But be clear what
our acts of penance do not do:
They do not “pay” for our sins,
The Cross paid for our sins—
Not going without chocolate!

I know many of you will get “Rice Bowls”—
Your teachers will help you collect money
to help feed hungry people
elsewhere in the world.

That’s a good thing to do; very important.
But that won’t make God love you,
He already loves you.

Rather—it is how you show your love for him!

There’s one special thing we do today,
“Ash Wednesday.”

In a moment, we will come forward,
And one of the teachers
or I will put ashes on your head.

When you come forward,
you’ll see the ashes look like dirt!

The ashes remind us that everything
that seems so important is like ashes—dirt!
Compared to what really matters: knowing Jesus!
Most things in life
will end up like these ashes—
burned up, worth nothing.
But our friendship with God—
that will last forever!

These ashes—this dirt—
are just a small reminder
that when we sin:
-- when we lie, we cheat,
-- when we are greedy and selfish,
-- when we hurt others with our fists or our words,
-- when we forget to put God first in our lives,
-- when we neglect to care for other people…

All these things are dirt on our souls—
We don’t realize just how dirty they make us.

But when we realize we’re dirty,
Then we want all the more to be . . . clean!
And that’s when we realize
how wonderful God is!
He makes us clean!

More than clean, as in taking a bath;
But clean through and through!
Only God can do that!

So, during Lent,
we feel sorrow and joy at the same time!

Sorrow for sin, for being dirty;
But joy—joy!—because
we get to be friends with God;
God looks past the sin, the dirt,
in our lives;
God changes us—and makes us clean.


Jackie said...

OK - so you asked for 'specific' comments - here you go:
1. I like your style of writing - it is very orderly and that appeals to me (and others) but also allows most people to grasp a particular concept or message
2. I very much appreciate the overt message that these disciplines of lent do not 'pay for our sins' - because people, particularly children, can easily come to that conclusion and that you said, overtly - Jesus paid.
3. While I know you listed some possible options of Lent - giving up candy, saying extra prayers - I have found that when I have spoken to the typical 'Catholic in the pew' - they would want to know - but what am I supposed to DO? So - I think more specific suggestions - 'actionable items' even for the kids - like - For extra prayers - Why not start each morning with a Morning Offering - if only - Jesus I love you, I want to be more like you and I give everything today to you through your Mother.

I think that the vast majority of adults sitting in the pews would appreciate a few concrete suggestions and my guess is so would the kids.

God Bless you - and have a Holy Lent.

Deacon Jim said...


I take it that this homily was focused on children. I think the concepts presented were great, but depending on the age of the children there may have been too many.

The idea of dirt, sins, washing. Working off the waters of baptism would be a great singular thread.

You could then work off baptism - change, membership, what membership means.

Again, depending on age, if you say the ashes remind us of the dirt of sin a child might say, 'Then why are we putting dirt on us?' - a funny question, but you know kids...

Again, I think great, especially if the children were 'tweens' or early teens. If younger, I would simplify.

God bless and may this Lent renew your spirit.

Father Martin Fox said...

Thanks for the good comments.

Yes, this was for children, although there were adults present. The children were K to 3rd grade. I am not sure I'm right, but I figure its okay if the kids don't get all of it; some of it will be for the adults.

Jackie's advice to be more specific is always good.

Deacon Jim's hypothetical question -- why are we putting dirt on our faces? -- is certainly a kid kind of question! I didn't think of that! That's often the danger of an analogy or image; upon further review, one finds it fits less well than it seemed at first.