Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Homily for Ash Wednesday 2017.

The English author, G. K. Chesterton says: AThe soul does not die by sin, but by impenitence.@ More deadly than sin itself is the refusal to acknowledge sin, and to repent of it. Repentance is at the beginning of every Mass. It is also how we begin Lent.

ALord, have mercy,@ we pray. When we appeal to God, we are acknowledging that we can never get rid of sin on our own. Sin is like addiction. Part of the reason for the success of Alcoholics Anonymous in dealing with the addiction to alcohol is the spiritual soundness of the first two of its twelve points:

1.       We admitted we were powerless over alcoholCthat our lives had become unmanageable.

2.       We came to believe that a Power greater than our own could restore us to sanity.  

As we begin Lent, therefore, we confess our powerlessness and appeal to the only power that can make us whole. Do we realize how counter-cultural that is? The self-help books all tell us that we=re not powerless. We can do it on our own. We can get our act together. The only thing we lack is self-confidence. In confessing our sins we are not asking for an increase of self-confidence. Instead we appeal to God for mercy. Prayer for God=s mercy is one petition which is always certain of a favorable response.

AA clean heart create for me, O God,@ we prayed in the responsorial psalm.  Cleanliness is not something grim. Nor is the repentance which leads to cleanliness. It is liberating B and joyful. One of the most beautiful things in married life is the ability to say, AI=m sorry,@ and to hear the words, AI forgive you.@ 

Beautiful as human forgiveness is, however, it is only a pale shadow of God=s forgiveness. When we forgive, there is always a memory of the wrong or injury done B a skeleton in the closet, we call it. God doesn=t have any closets, and if he did there would certainly not be any skeletons in them. God=s forgiveness is total. In the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah we hear God saying: AThough your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow@ (1:18). And later in the book God says: AI wipe out your offenses; your sins I remember no more.@ (43:25). That, friends, is the gospel, the good news. We don’t need to drag after us an ever lengthening tale of guilt. When we truly repent, God forgives: totally and completely.