Ash Wednesday (A) 2020
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward.
But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’
WE all know the story of Cinderella, right? A daughter of a loving father but became a victim of a wicked stepmum and stepsisters. She was made a slave; forced to sleep in the ashes. In fact, that is how she got her name—Cinderella, ash girl. Eventually, somebody rescued her—the fairy godmother—turned degradation into glory and freeing Cinderella from slavery and helping her to be the bride of the prince. If we try to reflect the story of Cinderella, we might recognise ourselves with her.
We are children of a loving Father. Yet we are enslaved. Although our enslavement was not primary the doing of somebody else but most of the time, our own choosing. I am enslaved to sin, to self-centredness and selfishness, slaved to laziness, to fear. I am—we are—controlled by advertising, by social expectations, by wrong notions of what is truth, faith and love or by wrong notions of what constitute happiness. We are created into the image and likeness of God and we are called to eternal joy, but we prefer to be enslaved—crouch in the debris of burnt-out hopes and dreams. We prefer to live in ashes.
Today we smear ashes on our foreheads as a reminder of who we are. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” That means of course, that I will die and decay—we all will. But it also describes our whole life till then. As the Canadian psychologist puts it: life is suffering. We are all Cinderella. But is that it? Are ashes our whole story? Is that where the similarity ends? Is there a godmother who will save us?
Well, welcome to Lent, a time to reflect on our ashiness and our salvation. From now on till the start of the Sacred Triduum we will remember that we are Cinderella sitting in sin. But we are also called to remember the great invitation and promise. “Repent and believe in the Gospel!” Yes, Lent reminds us of the horrible reality of what life could be without God. Emptiness. Nothingness; “Remember that you are dust” could be the whole story—our whole story. But Lent also insists that there is a way out of the ashiness of our lives. In fact, it has already been given, through baptism. The Prefaces for Lent speaks of “this joyful season.” Our loving Father already rescued us through Jesus Christ. All we to do is to want, to respond to the call of conversion, to respond to His invitation.
Brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters of a loving Father we will renew our claim to that heavenly inheritance at Easter. We know that ashes are not the whole story. But many others think they are. So Lent gives us a chance to taste the emptiness of their lives—by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving— so that we will be motivated to share the good news with them that they, like we, are invited to leave our ashes behind and take part in a glorious dance of joy and an unlimited future in God’s love.
In the end, Ash Wednesday and Lent is trying to tell us that we can and we will live happily ever after.