(Excerpts from Coming Home to God, a homily for Ash Wednesday by Fr. Robert B. Manansala, OFM)
Ashes are a symbol of repentance and cleansing in the Bible…The imposition of ashes is not just a pious decoration so we can say we are abiding Catholics. No, it is a powerful, evocative and penitential symbol of our response to God’s invitation to return to Him with all our hearts. What is seen in our foreheads should reflect the intentions and longings of our hearts, and the new behaviors and changes that we want to implement in our lives.
The Rite of the Imposition of Ashes has a double meaning: the first meaning is about conversion and repentance. The first formula goes with the imposition of ashes elucidates this: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). Simply put, it exhorts us to turn away from our sinful ways and to turn to God and his ways.
What are we planning to turn away from, to give up for the Lord during this season of Lent that starts with the celebration of Ash Wednesday? Are we giving up popcorn, chocolates or soft drinks? These questions and the items intended to be given up are commendable. But the more important question is: “What does God want to give us during this Season of Lent?”
The second meaning of the Rite of Imposition of Ashes is a reminder of our precarious human condition: “From dust you came, unto dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). It is a reminder of our limitations, of our own death and end. As psalm 90 says, “O Lord, teach us how short our life is so that we may become wise” (Ps 90:12). We are reminded not only of our sinfulness but also of our death and finitude, so that we will start living well because we do not have the luxury of time.
During the season of Lent, we are invited to make a forty-day spiritual journey, a time of spiritual retreat. We are called to make Lenten programs, to discern what God is offering and asking from us, and to resolve to do concrete practices and strategies to turn away from sin and to turn more and more to God and His ways.
Coming Home to God, a homily for Ash Wednesday is just one of the many homilies Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM offers in his book Echoes of God’s Love. The book is available at the parish book store for only P375. Proceeds go to the Our Lady of the Angels Library Renovation and Upgrade Project.