Homily — Ash Wednesday MMVIII Feb. 6, 2008
Eleven months ago, we went to Church the Sunday before Easter and were given a green Palm Branch. And as the Mass began, we all held up our Palm Branches as we proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem at the Entrance Procession of Mass.
And we took that Fresh Green Palm branch home with us, and put it behind the Crucifix hanging in our home; or maybe we made crosses or other figures (the French Canadians make something called “cut-cuts”) out of the Palm branch.
But as Easter came and went, and spring turned into summer, and summer turned into winter, the Palm Branch we received on Palm Sunday started to lose its Greenness, and turn dry and brittle.
And yesterday, I took a bunch of those dry old Palm branches and folded them up into bunches, and pressed them down into a Hibachi out behind the Church. I lit a match and Poof! Within seconds a hundred palm branches turned into these ashes I will be blessing and putting on your foreheads.
In a lot of ways, those Palms are like our souls. Last Palm Sunday, after 34 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, our souls were pretty fresh and green and full of the life of the Spirit. Jesus was riding triumphantly into Holy Week and we were riding high along with Him.
But then last Easter came and went, and when summer came we slowly started going back to our old ways again, started thinking less and less about God. And our souls, like that palm branch, started to get dry and brittle and not as full of the love of God as they were on Palm Sunday at the end of Lent.
And now, as we begin a new Lent today, many of us find our souls so dried out that we’re in danger of spiritual burn out. Some of us even find our souls black from playing with fire and giving in to sin and temptation.
But now is the very acceptable time to refresh our dry and weary souls again. Now is the very acceptable time to get a clean heart from God our Father, through our discipline of daily Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving.
And so we begin anew today, as we receive Ashes on our foreheads as an acknowledgment to God that our souls, which should be green and full of sap and bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit, have dried up and withered due to our lack of love, and that our sins have burned out and blackened our souls.
Just as a gardener uses ashes as fertilizer, Jesus want to use these ashes of repentance to grow His love anew in our hearts.
So as we begin these 40 grace filled days of Lent, may Christ inspire us to draw near to Him in deeper and longer times of prayer, in fasting from some of things that are really just distracting us from God, and in generously giving Alms to the poor throughout this Holy Season.
And may the Victory Palms we receive at the end of this Lent be fresher and greener and longer lasting than before.