Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-18, Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17

I am excited!
One of the reasons why Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite days of the entire Church year is because I get to see so many of my Brothers and Sisters who I haven’t seen in a long time. So in a special way, to my brothers and sisters who I haven’t been here for a while - welcome back! We have missed your presence with us.

I am also excited about Lent because it is an opportunity for us to transform our lives so that God can use us to show his love to the world in a special way these next 40 (forty) days of Lent. Lent is a time for fasting, for prayer and for almsgiving. It is a time of penance where we are invited to change the way we live so that we become more aware of God’s action in our lives in this Easter.

The Day of Signs
Today is a day of signs. There are three signs that I want to reflect on with you today. The sign that we are to one another in this community which God has gathered here today; the sign of the cross that we receive on our foreheads today; and the sign that we will be to our family, friends and neighbors in the world after we leave here today.

The First Sign - God has gathered us!
The first sign that we have today is the sign that God has shown us in our lives. That sign is the fact that we are all gathered here today to begin our Lent together. Why has God done this?


God has gathered us here to give us a common mission, a common purpose. In the reading today the God speaks to us through the words of the Prophet Joel when he says “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”. The question is – how can we do this?


The Second Sign - the cross of ash
The answer to the question of how can we return to God with our whole heart is found in the second sign – the sign of a cross of ashes that will be written on our foreheads. This is a sign for us to repent, to turn around and change our ways, to open our hearts to God in a new way.

We conform our lives to the cross when we choose to listen to him and follow the 10 (ten) Commandments, do good and avoid evil. To help us do this, I would like to offer a brief refresher of the way of God, the way that leads to life and not the way that leads to death.

The first three commandments have to do with our relationship with God, and our worship of God.
  • I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.
  • You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  • Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.
What are the things that we place before God? Do we use His name with reverence, do we treasure His name in our hearts as we would a loved one, or do we use His name as a curse? Do we come and visit him in the Mass on Sunday, or only when it suits us?

The fourth commandment is related, because parents are the first teachers of Gods love to their children.
  • Honor your father and your mother.
If we are parents, are we being faithful to the special mission that God gave us to teach His love to our children? Are we honorable Mothers and Fathers? If we are children, are we respectful, and obedient of our parents.

The last six commandments deal with how we treat those whom we live with.
  • You shall not kill.
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.
Do we kill – with our words, with our anger, with our gossip? Do we sin against marriage with pornography, or with an affair? Do we steal from our neighbors, our employers? Do we lie? Are we a people of truth or falsehood? Are we envious of the way that God has blessed our neighbor’s family or possessions?


The cross that we are signed with today helps us to battle these sins. When we are tempted to sin, when we know that what we are about to do breaks one of these commandments and we are tempted to do it anyway knowing that it wounds our relationship with God, remember this cross of ash that we are signed with today. If you wear a cross, then touch it when you are tempted and ask God for strength you to overcome temptation, resist sin and choose the way of life rather then to sin and choose the way of death!


The Third Sign - Our witness in the world
The third sign is the sign that we are to the world. When we leave here tonight, we will meet people on the streets, at the store, at work or at home. The sign that God wants us to be to them is our living out the change that he is inviting us to make in our lives this Lent. It is our faithfulness to this Lenten discipline that Christ will use to show His love to the world. So “return to God 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”.


Secret Agent Saints

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B

Lv 13:1-2, 44-46 Psalm Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11, 1 Cor 10:31-11:1, Mk 1:40-45

The Saint
One of the television shows that I watched as a kid was the show “The Saint”. The main character of this show was a cross between Robin Hood and James Bond. Every episode he would disguise himself and use the name of some Catholic Saint as an alias. Thus disguised he would rob from the rich and give to the poor using the coolest secret agent gadgets available.

Mark – The Gospel for Secret Agents and Spies
I mention the Saint because I jokingly refer to the Gospel of Mark as the Gospel of Secret Agents and Spies. I do this for two reasons; One, Mark’s Gospel is the Gospel of Action; Mark never wastes words describing the scene, Jesus is always busy doing things. The other reason why Mark’s Gospel is the Gospel of Spies and Secret agents is that He is always trying to keep his identity as the Messiah as a secret. In today’s Gospel Jesus orders the Leper not to tell anyone who cured him. The reason why Jesus is trying to keep his identity secret is that he wants people to encounter him as he really is, and not through their expectations. Jesus reveals the truth of his secret identity when he dies on the Cross to show us the fullness of God’s love.

Jesus’ Secret Mission
Not only does Jesus have a secret identity in the Gospel today, but he also has a secret mission. The secret mission of Jesus is to show God’s love to people, and to lead them to give thanks for God’s presence in their lives. We see this in the Gospel today, Jesus heals the Leper and sends him to offer sacrifice in the temple for his healing. This act of offering sacrifice is a way of offering praise and thanksgiving to the Father. The secret mission of Jesus is to give us grace and to invite us to return to God with thanksgiving in our hearts.

We too are Secret Agents for Christ
There is a saying, “you’re preaching to the choir”. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but today, “I am preaching to the spies”. I say this because all of us Christians here are called to be “Like Christ” – If Christ had a secret mission, then so do we. In the second reading today St. Paul helps us to carry out our mission in three concrete ways. We can think of these as three principles of living our lives as “Secret Agents of Christ”. These are

  • Do Everything for the Glory of God
  • Avoid giving offense, Try to please everyone in everyway.
  • Seeking the Benefit of the many – that they may be saved.

Ad Majorem Dei Glroiam
St Ignatius of Loyola’s is a real-life example of the fictional Saint. The motto was was “ad majorem Dei gloriam“ – In English, “For the Greater Glory of God”. Whenever Ignatius thought about some new undertaking, or some new venture, he always evaluated it in the light of this saying. If the goal, the purpose of the idea he had would result in the greater glory of God, then he would do it, if not, then he would discard it.

It is healthy for us too to develop a motto or slogan that we use to guide our lives. This is helpful because God has created each one of us for a specific mission, purpose in this life. Reflecting on that, and having a way to express it, often gives us a way to focus our life here on earth and order it to be productive and fruitful. If there is just one thing to remember from this homily today – it is that homework assignment – pray about your personal mission statement.

Try to please everyone in everyway.
Once we have a motto, then we understand how to frame our entire life. This was the case for the French-Canadian Blessed Andre Bessette. He had it in his heart to join the Holy Cross brothers in Montreal, but they refused because he was illiterate and ill. Perseverance and providence paid off and in 1870 he entered the order, and was given the job of door keeper, laundry worker and messenger. He spent the next 67 years of his life trying to follow the exhortation of St. Paul to “Please everyone in everyway”. This does not mean that Blessed Andre was a doormat for everyone coming to the brothers, on the contrary, he understood that the best way to please everyone in everyway was for him to allow them to encounter Christ in his actions whenever they came to the brothers in need. When people came to Blessed Andre’s door, he listen to them, he prayed with them and God used him to heal them. So many people were miraculously cured through his prayers that at the time of his death in 1937 he was receiving 80,000 letters a year from people asking for his prayers or needing advice. God used Andre’s pure devotion of heart to reach his people in the simple way he answered the door and took care of those who came before him.

“not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved”
As a teenager, St. Therese of Liseux wanted to be a missionary, to travel to wild lands and win souls for Christ. She made her first convert when she was only fifteen years old. There was a notorious murderer named Henri Pranzini on death row in France at the time. Therese prayed intensely to God that he would convert before his death. When she read the paper the day after his execution at the Guillotine, she saw that this man had asked to kiss the crucifix three times before being beheaded. This convicted Therese that the best way she could help others was through her fervent prayer so when she grew up she entered the Carmel at Lisuex and spent the rest of her life as a cloistered nun praying for the conversion of souls. This is what she wrote later in her life about how she was living out her vocation;

"I feel in me the vocation of the Priest. I have the vocation of the Apostle. Martyrdom was the dream of my youth and this dream has grown with me. Considering the mystical body of the Church, I desired to see myself in them all. Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was burning with love. I understood that Love comprised all vocations, that Love was everything, that it embraced all times and places...in a word, that it was eternal! Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my Love...my vocation, at last I have found it...My vocation is Love!


Our homily today began with Simon Templar, “The Saint” who robbed the rich and give to the poor while using the name of some obscure Catholic Saint as his identity. In some way we are imitating him by taking the rich grace that God gives us and bringing it to the poor in our lives. We do this by listening, caring for and loving those we live and work with. When we look at the saints, Ignatius, Andres and Therese we see the many different ways that they lived out their lives responding to the love of God. Our secret mission is the same, and it is perhaps best summed up by St. Paul in the second reading today when he says; “Be imitators of Me, as I am of Christ”.

That – my Brothers and Sisters is our mission this week. The question is, are we brave enough to carry it out?