My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
As we begin this holy season of Lent, I especially want to ask you to give thank God today and also, today especially, our Holy Father Pope Francis. Yesterday, the Pope gave us a new Auxiliary Bishop, Bishop-elect Alex Aclan. So, we thank God today for this great blessing for the entire family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
We also want to pray today for Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Brennan, who has been serving at the San Fernando region. Yesterday, the Pope appointed him to be the new Bishop of Fresno, California. So, we pray for him and his new ministry and we pray for the people of the Diocese of Fresno.
So today, in this holy liturgy Ash Wednesday, we begin again! Today we start out once on our spiritual journey during this season of Lent.
And we heard those beautiful words of the prophet Joel in the first reading of today’s Mass:
Even now, says the Lord,
Return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping and mourning.
It caught me at my attention at the beginning of this reading, “Even now,” the Lord says. These are words of mercy, words of promise. No matter where we have been, no matter what we have done. No matter what direction we are going. “Even now,” we can come home. Even now we can be forgiven.
I also like the Spanish translation of these words of the Bible, in Spanish the translation is: Todavia es tiempo. So, it is still time to come back.
The journey of Lent is always a journey of returning. A journey of coming home.
We walk this journey of Lent because we are invited. The Lord himself is calling us back, calling us to come home.
So my brothers and sisters, God does not leave us wandering in the wilderness. He does not want any one of us to be lost. That means that each one of us — that you are precious to God. So he calls us to come to him.
So today, we hear his voice: Return to me with your whole heart. It’s beautiful.
So today, once again, Jesus is calling us to follow him. He’s calling us to take his hand and to let him lead us.
And in the Gospel that we just heard, Jesus gives us three simple ways to follow him. Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. This is how Jesus lived, and this is how he asks us to live.
These three practices, it seems to me, should be part of our daily life as Christians, as Catholics.
Prayer is not complicated, as we know. It is just talking to God, listening to him, reading his Words in the Gospel. Prayer is a conversation — a personal conversation with God. Talking to God in love. Making time to be quiet and listen for his voice in your heart. It’s just a conversation.
So the first thing, prayer, and then fasting.
Fasting does not mean starving yourself. It just means learning to live with less, trying to be less selfish, making little sacrifices, little offerings to God. As is traditional during the season of Lent to give up something — something little that can help us to really be with the spirit of Penance, fasting.
Then almsgiving. That means, as we know, just being generous, opening our hearts, thinking about the needs of others; finding little ways to serve people.
I think this a simple and beautiful way to live this season of Lent. And also this is our Christian life. Because in this way, we become more and more like Jesus. We learn to trust in God and to depend on him.
And Jesus promises us today, that if we do if we do these things, we will know more and more that we are his children and he loves us. Jesus says:
Your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
So my dear brothers and sisters, our Christian life is a journey of conversion. We do not become faithful Catholics, faithful Christians, followers of Jesus Christ “once and for all.” Becoming a Christian, becoming a follower of Jesus, is the work of a lifetime — beginning and beginning again. And that’s exactly what this Ash Wednesday in this liturgical moment at the beginning of Lent the Church — God — is asking us.
So let’s have a good beginning today. Let us make this Lent a time of growing deeper in our friendship with Jesus, trying to become more like Jesus — in the way we think, in the way we act, in the way that we dream about our life, in the way we make decisions and in the way we act. That’s the way to find peace, joy, happiness in our lives.
And let’s ask Mary our Blessed Mother for her intercession. May she help us to make this Lent a beautiful journey love. May she help each of us to hear the Lord’s voice and to follow him more closely.
1. Readings: Joel 2:12-18; Ps. 51:3-6, 12-13, 17; 2 Cor. 5:20-6:2; Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18.