BY: Fr. Ben Agbo


HOMILY: * Joel 2:12 – 18, 2 Cor 5: 20 – 6: 2, Matt 6: 1 – 18.

The Opening prayer of today’s Liturgy says it all: ‘Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self restraint’. Yes, Lent is a time of spiritual warfare and our greatest weapon of warfare is self control – one of the greatest fruits of the Holy Spirit, Gal 5: 23. Lent is a special period of mourning for our sins and thinking about our death. That is why the liturgical colour is violet as we have in funerals. The Significance of the Ashes has duo dimensional perspectives;

  1. Mourning, Job 2: 8, Jon 3: 6 &Jer 6: 26.

  2. Mortality, Gen 2: 7.
    Sitting on ashes has therefore remained in biblical times a sign of mourning and sobriety. Major prayerful interventions in biblical history by intercessors like Judith and Esther were never done without the sprinkling of ashes on their heads, Judith 9: 1, Esther 4: 3.
    The principal clarion call of the Lenten season is: ‘Return to me with all your heart – tear your hearts and not your garments’, Joel 2: 12 – 18. For quite some time now, I have pastored in the hinterland, I feel embarrassed every Ash Wednesday as I watch many of my Christians struggling on the line for this perfunctory ritual of getting their heads anointed with ashes only to rush out into the society to their ‘business as usual’, completely untouched by the significance of this wonderful sacramental exercise that is mearnt to put us spiritually in the mood for the Lenten season. Lent is a time for both individual and community repentance. Lent is a time for special self control of our youthful passions: anger, lust, pride and vanity. It is a time for self denial and mortification from sex, excess food, alcoholic drinks, excess sleep, too much talking, addiction to television, etc.

It is interesting that this year’s Ash Wednesday, Nigerian Catholics are in black mourning for our Country’s insecurity, a country where man is becoming wolf to man. As Christians we need to mourn even more for our paradigm shifts from the gospel of repentance to the gospel of prosperity ; from servant leadership to consumerist leadership ; from being a Church that promotes the interest of the poor to a Church where the rich are better recognized ; from being a Church that is evangelizing and getting more converts to a Church that is feeding from its flock.
We beg you in the name of Jesus, says today’s 2nd reading, to be reconciled to God. For our sake, God made him who knew no sin to take up our sins so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Christ gives us 3 strong warnings in today’s gospel:
1. Beware of practising your piety before men in order to be praised by them.
2. Beware of giving alms ostentatiously to be praised by men, 3. Beware of fasting in such a way that you look abnormal.
Simply put: Don’t pray like hypocrites. Don’t give alms like hypocrites. Give alms in secret. Don’t fast like hypocrites. Fast joyfully.

Mahatma Ghandi has accused Christians themselves of flouting the teachings of Christ on the Sermon on the Mountain more than other religions. That’s why he says: ‘I love Christ but I hate the Christians’. We can’t do without fasting if we want to grow spiritually. According to St Peter Chrysologus, ‘What prayer asks, fasting knocks on the door and almsgiving obtains it’. Authentic spirituality has to do with making our prayer life sincere, our almsgiving spiritual and our fasting pleasing to God, not man.

I wish you a very happy Lenten season!

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