By fasting, the body is subjected to the soul. By prayer, the soul is united to God. By charity, man is united to man, and through man to God. "As long as you did it for one of these, the least of My brethren, you did it for Me" (Matt. 25:40). Without charity to our fellow men, neither fasting nor prayer is acceptable to God. Fasting and prayer must issue in a kindness and sympathy that reach not only to our closest associate but also to the most distant sufferer.
INTROIT Ps. 29:11
The Lord heard me and had pity on me; the Lord became my helper.
Ps. 29:2. I will extol You, O Lord, for You have upheld me, and have not let my enemies rejoice over me.
V. Glory be . . .
Watch over the fast we have undertaken, O Lord, and let this bodily penance also be a truly spiritual exercise to make us strong. Through Our Lord . . .
EPISTLE Isa. 58:1-9
Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and declare unto my people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways: as a nation that did righteousness and forsook not the ordinance of their God, they ask of me righteous ordinances, they delight to draw near unto God. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find your own pleasure, and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and contention, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye fast not this day so as to make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I have chosen? the day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy healing shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. For, I, the Lord your God, am merciful.
GRADUAL Ps. 26:4
One thing I have asked of the Lord; this will I seek after: to dwell in the house of the Lord.
V. That I may behold the joy of the Lord and be sheltered by His holy temple.
TRACT Ps. 102:10O Lord, repay us not according to the sins we have committed, nor according to our iniquities. V. O Lord, remember not our iniquities of the past; let Your mercy come quickly to us, for we are being brought very low.(All Kneel.) V. Help us, O God our Savior, and for the glory of Your name, O Lord, deliver us; and pardon us our sins for Your names sake.
GOSPEL Matt. 5:43-48; 6:1-4
At that time, Jesus said to his disciples, "Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Gentiles the same? Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father which is in heaven. When therefore thou doest alms, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret shall recompense thee."
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON Ps. 118:154, 125
O Lord, give me life according to Your promise, that I may know Your degrees.
O Lord, may the offering of our lenten sacrifice make our souls more pleasing to You, and help us to be more prompt in self-denial. Through our Lord . . .
COMMUNION ANTIPHON Ps. 2:11-12
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling before Him. Embrace discipline that you perish not from the way of virtue.
Fill our hearts with the spirit of Your love, O Lord. May we who have been nourished with the one bread of Heaven also be of one mind. Through our Lord . . .
Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.
One fine morning ten years ago in St Peter's square in the Vatican I saw a man in a black cassock walk across the square. He had white hair and the build of a famous cardinal I knew. "That can't be. It is!" I walked up to him and asked him, "Are you Cardinal Ratzinger?" With a very warm smile he said, "Yes I am!"
Any intelligent premeditated question I had prepared for that moment went out of my mind and I felt like a total idiot staring in face of one of the brightest theological minds of third millennium.
He must have seen my awkwardness because he joked about how young I was when he visited my hometown of St Paul, Minnesota.
I like many have been touched by this gentle soul, this humble worker in the Lord's vineyard, this utterly amazing Pope.
For Lent, God is taking my Pope away.
In the middle of Lent I am getting a new Pope.
Believing in charity calls forth charity.
This is the Lenten message my Pope has asked me to think about, the Lenten interior and spiritual plan for the whole Church.
I believe in God. I believe God. I believe God's plan is to bring about the maximum charity in my soul and the souls of all the faithful. I believe God's plan for me to believe in charity and thus to bring it about is to not be shaken by receiving a new Pope in Lent.
As I am grateful for the gifts and blessings of Pope Benedict XVI, the awesome spiritual bombs the B16 has dropped and the explosive ripples of grace have blessed this generation, I am also truly grateful, sincerely and totally thankful IN ADVANCE for the next Pope.
I don't know who it will be, but I know that God is good and that he is leading the Church. He is the unseen head of the Church and that his goodness will demand an amazing Pope for our times.
Of course, the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that we hear about in the Gospel today, Ash Wednesday, are very important to help us all believe in charity so to call it forth.
These are not just traditional forms of Lenten penance, but three gifts which so coherently and perfectly respond to the three wounds that we have.
Sin has caused a treble wound of a break in the relationship between God, others, and ourselves. Prayer mends the relationship with God; almsgiving the relationship with others; fasting with our own being, especially our flesh.
In this sense the Gospel for Ash Wednesday is perfect for every year because it is the unchanging spiritual program for every Lent.
We won't ever change out of the ways that we are broken or the ways in which we personally and collectively need to repent. However, every year the Holy Spirit asks of us something new. The Lenten message of the Holy Father is always the place to look for what is unique to this year's Lent. So - the Holy Father has given us a spiritual program of papal transition.
I suggest we follow it.
These are the two things that will bring us through Lent this year from the Holy Father's message: faith and charity. This Pope has been the Pontiff of faith, hope, and charity, as he has written a major encyclical about each of the theological virtues.
Here are the Holy Father's words for us this Lent about faith and charity:
"The relationship between these two virtues resembles that between the two fundamental sacraments of the Church: Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism (sacramentum fidei) precedes the Eucharist (sacramentum caritatis), but is ordered to it, the Eucharist being the fullness of the Christian journey. In a similar way, faith precedes charity, but faith is genuine only if crowned by charity. Everything begins from the humble acceptance of faith ("knowing that one is loved by God"), but has to arrive at the truth of charity ("knowing how to love God and neighbor"), which remains for ever, as the fulfillment of all the virtues (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).
"Dear brothers and sisters, in this season of Lent, as we prepare to celebrate the event of the Cross and Resurrection - in which the love of God redeemed the world and shone its light upon history - I express my wish that all of you may spend this precious time rekindling your faith in Jesus Christ, so as to enter with him into the dynamic of love for the Father and for every brother and sister that we encounter in our lives. For this intention, I raise my prayer to God, and I invoke the Lord's blessing upon each individual and upon every community!"
At the end of three weeks, we should go to Confession and Holy Communion with the intention
of giving ourselves to Jesus Christ in the quality of slaves of love, by the hands of Mary. After
Communion, we should recite the consecration prayer, we ought to write it, or have it written
and sign it the same day the consecration is made. It would be well that on this day, we should
pay some tribute to Jesus Christ and our Blessed Lady, either as a penance for our past
unfaithfulness to the vows of Baptism, or as a testimony of dependence on the dominion of Jesus
and Mary. This tribute should be one in accordance with your fervor, such as a fast, a
mortification or an alms, or a candle. If but a pin is given in homage, and given with a good
heart, it will be enough for Jesus Who loves only the good will.
Once a year at least, and on the same day we should renew this consecration, observing the same
practices during the three weeks.
Here is the excerpt of the pastoral letter of Archbishop Peter Smith that I read in my homily. Read the full text.
So as we begin Lent, we should all be asking the question, “What shall we do?” Lent is a time when we are called to repentance, and to put God more consciously at the very centre of our lives once again. The traditional ways of repentance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving...In order to do as the Lord asks of us, our hearts must be united with his heart; we must come to know him, and abide with him ever more deeply and with ever greater commitment, day by day. Lent is a “favourable time” for me to ask myself some pertinent questions about where I stand with God, and how I am responding to the commission he has given us. I cannot do that fruitfully unless I become more attentive to the word of God in the scriptures and through spending some time each day in quiet prayer. I cannot, from my own resources, produce the fruit that will last, unless I allow the living word of God to nurture my faith and trust in God who loves me unconditionally and with a steadfast love, and who looks on me in my weakness with great mercy and compassion. That living word of God not only informs my mind and heart, so that I come to know him, but is also able to transform my life so that I can indeed become “the light of the world”, “salt of the earth.”
"I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves" -St Paul Miki
St Francis converted Assissi. St Francis de Sales converted Geneva. St Jean Vianney - Ars. Jesus? He did not convert Nazareth. And as for St Paul Miki? He did not convert Osaka, Japan.
Today, again in the readings we hear the Gospel of failure. In the Gospel for today we hear that Jesus went to Nazareth and he was obstructed. We read later that they even chased him out and threatened to throw him off the cliff. He did not sway those that he lived with for 30 years that he was the promised One, the Messiah, the Lord.
We are in particular need of knowing that Jesus failed and that he sanctified failure.
Did he say, blessed are the rich? Blessed are the successful? Blessed are those with no opposition?
Exactly the opposite.
We find ourselves today surrounded by the powerful regime of the totalitarian, relativistic, successful mignons of this world. It is scary. It is enough to take the heart out of you sometimes.
But Jesus was an underdog. He died as a failure - abandoned by his closest followers, denied by the one he set as visible head of his Church, misunderstood by the religious leaders of the time, seen as a threat by the political leaders of the time.
Don't get me wrong. Jesus was not afraid of success or power, and neither should we be. He was not afraid of glory, but just knew that glory in this world most of the time appears very differently.
Faith does not depend on success. It is not based on worldly power or odds in our favor. Faith is the conviction of one's inmost heart set like flint on the face of God - God who is eternal, immutable, unchanging, impassible, and undeniably attentive to the cry of the poor.
In this year of faith, expect failure according to the world's standards. Why? So that the power of God may be revealed in our weakness, our powerlessness, our littleness. For God is glorified in the humble, the contrite of heart, the little ones who depend upon him. This is sometimes the only way that faith may increase and that the Church grow.
St Paul Miki, whose feast day we celebrate today, had his greatest moment, according to the eyes of the world, during the moment of failure. He gave his greatest witness and preached his greatest homily from the pulpit of his dying moments on the Cross, embracing crucifixion like Jesus.
He said, "As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves."
He spoke clearly and plainly. This was exactly why he was dying upon the cross, because he was not afraid of the consequences of his actions. He was not afraid of failure in the eyes of the world. He had within him, the fear of the Lord, which is the perfect Christ-centered love that casts out every other fear.
Where are those who are not afraid to look bad in the eyes of this world? Where are the heroes? Where are the saints of our times that are not afraid of human respect?
May the prayers of Our Lady, who was considered at one moment, the mother of a failure, pray for us and obtain for us true faith in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our victorious and glorious Lord, who often hides his action in the failures of this life.