ASH WEDNESDAY HOMILY
THEME: TEAR YOUR HEARTS AND NOT YOUR GARMENTS!
BY: Fr. Benedict Agbo
Homily for Wednesday February 17 2021
- Joel 2 : 12 – 18, 2 Cor 5 : 20 – 6 : 2, Matt 6 : 1 – 18.
We need a new insight about holiness. We need a new approach to the question of repentance. We need to understand the new dispensation of righteousness that Christ brought. There is so much fakeness in Christianity today that issues about prayer, fasting and almsgiving – which has remained the tripodal stand of most religions, must be approached from a deeper perspective. As we enter another season of Lent, the Church invites us to return to God and be reconciled with him. Examine your conscience very well and come with a broken heart, not broken garments.
Firstly, we must find deeper reasons behind our prayer, fast and almsgiving. For example, what we save from fasting should be offered to God for the benefit of the poor and the hungry. Our almsgiving must be in secret. Our prayer must be less noisy, ostentatious and selfish. Our fasting must be in secret and could go beyond food to other more useful areas of the spiritual life.
Prophet Joel comes on point to us at this critical time in Nigeria when Christianity and Islam are turning more into merely extrinsic religions devoid of the intrinsic power of affecting change in our behaviour. He puts it metaphorically strong as follows : TEAR YOUR HEARTS AND NOT YOUR GARMENTS! What does he mean by that? Of course the garment is something you are wearing outside but your heart is your real self. Many of us are wearing Christianity and Islam like an extrinsic garment. A Catholic will promise his neighbour to give him a hot fight after mass while a Muslim will be chasing his enemy with a dagger and stop at the call for prayer, rush the prayer and quickly resume the chase. Why can’t the homily at mass or the prayer said regularly by the Muslim affect a change of heart in Christians and Muslims of Nigeria?
We need to pray for the gift of tears and mourning. The prophet Zechariah foresaw this and said : ‘ Over the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem I shall pour out a spirit of grace and prayer, and they will look to me. They will mourn for the one whom they have pierced as though for an only child’, Zech 12 : 10. We need to have a deep sense of sin. According to Thomas Fuller, ‘He who falls into sin is a man ; He was grieves in sin is a saint ; He who rejoices in sin is a devil’. We must learn how to be truly sorry for our sins and how to return to the Lord.
- Qualities of a good confession ;
- Deep meditation/ examination of conscience.
- Penitential prayer before going to show yourself to the priest.
- Firm purpose of amendment/ resolution after the confession.
- Avoidance of occasions of sin.
- Openness to a confessor/ spiritual director.
Jesus warns us in today’s gospel against hypocrisy : BEWARE OF PRACTICING YOUR PIETY BEFORE MEN IN ORDER TO BE SEEN BY THEM. This is done in the following 3 major ways ;
1. HYPOCRITICAL OFFERING/ ALMSGIVING ; Making ostentatious donations is not good if the intention of announcing your offering is to be seen and applauded by people. But there could be a better motive. Jesus said : ‘Let your light shine in people’s sight, so that seeing your good works, they may give praise to your father in heaven’, Matt 5 : 16.
2. HYPOCRITICAL PRAYER ; All forms of noisy prayer or praying in tongues that is not truly prompted by the Holy Spirit but mearnt to show off could be called hypothetical prayers. And this is becoming rampant in our churches today especially among us the Charismatics.
3. HYPOCRITICAL FASTING ; Christ warns that we should not look dismal because we are fasting. Ladies who don’t dress fine and perfume themselves / anoint their faces with nice/ affordable creams in the name of piety ( example some Precious blood devotees ) may end up falling into this category of Christians.
Let us make our ashes not to stop at our foreheads. Let them get to our hearts, lips, stomachs, etc. There are many other forms of fasting that are not from food according to Pope Francis ; We could fast from hurting words, from sadness, from anger, from pessimism, from worries, from complaints and criticisms, from worldly pleasure like sex, from selfishness, and For Youths more especially, I want to add, you can fast from amorous chats, browsing and all the carnal things we do in Facebook, Watsap, Imo or Twitter. Our right motive should be to deepen our relationship with God and thus set our feet firmly on the path of fuller joy.
Secondly, from Psalm 51 we must learn to do the prayer of Confession, Purification and Restoration. In Confession, we tell God to have mercy and wash us from our iniquity. We must show him that we know our transgressions clearly. According to Eugenie, when the soul has laid down its faults, sins and crimes at the feet of God, it feels freer and happier. In purification, we ask God to recreate a pure heart in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. In restoration, we ask God to restore in us the joy of our salvation which we often lose after every mortal sin.
Remember as you repent, to believe more in the gospel of Christ. It is our dependence on Christ’s grace that gives us a new dispensation of righteousness. Without a good lenten season, there will be no Easter joy just like resting is not always enjoyable without work. Just as sick people do not enjoy rest because of the pains in their body system, so does sin not allow the children of God to enjoy the joy that comes from the Lord, Neh 8 : 10.
The Nigerian brand of Christianity seems to promote a lot of hypocrisy ; so much loud prayers without fight against corruption, favouritism, rigging of elections, stealing, killing, sexual immorality and all forms of evil. Now is the acceptable time ; now is the time of salvation. Finally, Ash Wednesday has come again – the beginning of that favourable time of repentance and salvation. From Old Testament times, ash symbolizes mourning eg as shown by Job, Job 2 : 8, the Ninevites, Jon 3 : 6, David, 2 Sam 12 : 17 or Jeremiah, Jer 6 : 26. Let our sprinkling of ashes today not be an empty outward show of piety but let it be a sacramental that depicts the outward sign of our inner disposition of mourning for our sins. Let Christians never be seen struggling for ashes or quarreling afterwards with the same ashes on their foreheads. Let’s tear our hearts not our garments! Every Lenten season is a special season of metanoia.
May God help us to repent!
Happy Lenten Season!
FR BEN AGBO.
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