Friday, February 16, 2018

Father Riley's Ash Wednesday homily, February 14, 2018

Father Riley will begin our Lenten classes this Sunday (Feb 18) at 9am in the parish house.  Please join us for Gregg's enlightening guidance through Lent.  From the BCP, page 265: "I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word."


What comes to you mind when you hear the yearly invitation to Lent? Is it something like, oh, here we go again and here are the things I am supposed to do to get through the next 40 days. Or do you ask yourself the traditional question what will I give up for Lent this year?

I always like to tease people by asking them what they gave up last year. Some can remember, but most cannot. Instead of thinking about how to get through Lent, think about how Lent might get through to us this year. Lent is a season of preparation. It is a time for us to get ready to celebrate with joy the Resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ and what His rising from the dead means to our life and the life of the world.

The Lenten invite is an invitation to examine our spiritual life as a means of preparing ourselves to celebrate Easter. Call it a check-up if you will. It is a call to re-discover and re-commit ourselves to live into our identity, that is, our identity in God. Our life is hid in God as scripture says. It is in Him we live, move, and have our being. Who we are in God is who we really are.

Too often, we allow our culture, or even our own estimation of ourselves to define us. That is where self-examination comes in. Lent invites us to look at the ways in which we have allowed our fears, attitudes, behavior, our accomplishments, successes and failures, as well as our opinion of others to tell us who we are. All of which separates us from God, our true selves, and each other.

Lent invites us to repent of, fast from, and let go of, those false identities and renew our true identity as God’s holy people. With that in mind, let us return to the question of what to give up for Lent. First of all, ask yourself what is my motivation for giving up something? It is meant to be a sacrifice in the true sense of the word.

If it is not something that you will miss that has become part of your life, then it is a mere token and not a sacrifice. Giving up chocolate or the watching of Fox News is not the right idea.

What we choose to give up should be a negative in terms of our spiritual life; something that separates us from God, like pride; a barnacle that needs to be scraped off and removed once and for all.

And another thing, whatever you choose to give up that is detrimental to you spiritual life is not something you to want to go back and retrieve after the 40 days have ended. It should be a permanent surrender. If you give it to Jesus, it belongs to Jesus. Moreover, whatever we choose to give to God creates a space for adding something positive to our life in God. Think about that.

What could you add that would bring you closer to God? The three things Jesus is speaking of in today’s gospel are not things we should be adding during Lent, but three aspects of one’s spiritual life that should always be there: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. These are acts of piety, that is, devotion that comes with living one’s religious life according to one’s beliefs.

All three are a reflection of our relationship to God. God is not impressed with what others think of us, nor by what we think of ourselves. God rewards are based on pure motives of the heart. Thus, a thankful heart should motivate our almsgiving. We give back to God because we are thankful for all that, He gives to us.

We pray in order to communicate with God. The spirit of prayer is intimate, personnel communion with God. True prayer is not telling God what he already knows and then telling him what to do about it. True prayer is lifting up our hearts to God and includes listening, an aspect of prayer we often forget.

Fasting is a means of surrendering our self to God, learning to be dependent on Him. It is a means also of cleansing ourselves both physically and spiritually in order to be filled with God’s presence. Did you know that there is no Ash Wednesday in the Orthodox Church? The idea being that fasting is for spiritual growth and the glory of God, and is not to be seen by those around us.

But does our wearing of the cross of ashes on our foreheads this day communicate our fasting or our commitment to enter the Lenten season reminded of our need of repentance and of our mortality?

Most that come forward for the imposition of ashes do not intend to fast in the traditional sense of the word. Many will not wear the ashes throughout the day. To live a pious life is to live according to one’s religious beliefs in ways that manifest that belief. Isn’t that what we are called to do? Live our lives in such ways that others will know that we are Christians?

The cross of ashes may or may not remain during the day but the sign of the cross that was traced on our foreheads at baptism is indelible. We need to be reminded of that and perhaps the tracing of the sign of the cross with ashes will serve to do so.  It is Christ’s life we are to reflect. Our purpose in living a devout and holy life is not to call attention to ourselves but to Him.

These 40 days, then, belong to us. We can choose to go through the motions of getting through Lent or we can choose to participate in the Lenten exercises that allow Lent to get through to us. The deeper our Lenten practice and experience the more joyful will be our celebration of Easter.

We have been invited by the church to get ready to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ with joy and in the hope of eternal life that His rising from dead brings to all who truly believe in Him. To do so, we need to get our spiritual house in order by self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting and self-denial and the reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

The choice is ours. We can choose to accept the invitation and commit ourselves to following through on the ways and means of drawing closer to God and living into our true identities, so that the joy of Easter is ours throughout the year, or we can choose to ignore it.

Will you accept the Church’s invitation to re-discover and re-commit yourselves to live the Easter life? That is the real Lenten question. AMEN+

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