22 Feb — Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs forty days before Easter (excluding Sundays). It falls on a different date each year, because it is dependent on the date of Easter; it can occur as early as Feb 4 or as late as Mar 10.
Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are gathered after the palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned. In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with the Oil of the Catechumens, though some churches use ordinary oil. This paste is used by the clergyman who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his own forehead and then on each of those present. As he does so, he recites the words: “Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and it marks the beginning of Lent. Ashes were used in ancient times, according to the Bible, to express mourning. Dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent’s way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults.
Penitence is an essential part of the Christian life, for none of us can measure up to the tremendous vocation that is ours as Christians. We are in constant need of the mercy and forgiveness of God. Today we express this by taking part in an impressive corporate act of penitence and reconciliation, beseeching God for the grace to use with profit the ‘favourable time’ of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s Passover feast.
- the Sunday Missal
2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2
We are ambassadors for Christ.
A small group of us were blessed to visit Medjugorje in January. It is an unusual time to visit, being winter and the low season. It was the very first time for all of us and we were excited to begin 2023 with a personal pilgrimage.
Just to give everyone some background. Prior to June 24, 1981, Medjugorje (meaning “between the mountains” in Croatian) was just a small farming village in a harsh and desolate corner of the former Yugoslavia. Since that time, everything has changed and that village has grown to become one of the most significant hubs of Christianity’s growing popularity.
What’s special about June 24, 1981? The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a group of local children for the first time (the first in a long series that is still ongoing today) to deliver to the world a message of peace and conversion through prayer and fasting.
On June 26, 1981 (the 3rd day of the apparitions), Our Lady appeared to Vicka Ivanković (then 16) crying and with the Cross behind Her. Her words are sadly prophetic: “The world can only be saved through Peace, but the whole world will have peace only if it finds God… Reconcile yourselves, be brothers.” (History of Medjugorje: The First Apparitions, 2018)
Reconcile. The commonality between what Our Lady and St. Paul tells us.
In today’s second reading, Paul’s life mission is explained. The Lord has given him the mission to take the message of reconciliation with God through faith in Christ to as many people as possible. He calls himself and his co-workers “ambassadors for Christ.” Through His ambassadors, God is pleading with the world. Paul urges all of those who receive his letters to “be reconciled to God through faith in Christ”.
Paul’s message has remained unchanged in the two thousand years since he wrote it. Christ’s ambassadors are still pleading with anyone who hears it to believe in Christ’s death on the cross, which atones for our sins and brings about God’s reconciliation. The sins of those who approach God through faith in Christ are not counted against them. That is what we Christians should proclaim to the world.
Today’s first reading also affirms this message of reconciliation – Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning. Let your hearts be broken, not your garment torn, turn to the LORD, your God…
As Catholics, we too are ambassadors of the faith, representing Jesus and His message to the world.
Many times, when I am challenged by situations and people that anger, upset or frustrate me, when I feel unjustly treated, my first reaction is to fight back, lash out, leading me to be less than Christian. I ask myself, “Do these actions and words make me a good ambassador of Christ? Am I worthy of my title as daughter (or son) of God?” or can I be humble enough to go to the brother or sister who has hurt me and say, “ Forgive me for being unkind; my words and action.”
I will admit, it isn’t always easy, especially when I am on the receiving end of someone else’s unkind and selfish actions. However, one step at a time – I am no saint. What I can do is always to begin in prayer and keep praying. For the person I find hardest to pray for; and for myself to have the grace to forgive and be kind.
Pray for me, to be a good ambassador of Christ!
(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)
Prayer: Father, I am weak and often falter. I know that many times, I hurt and sadden you by my actions, thoughts and words. Help me, Father, to be a better ambassador of my faith. Help me be a small light for the world.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for giving me the opportunity every day to be good, loving and generous. Help me not give up this chance daily.
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