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Homily - Ash Wednesday 2021 - Bishop McKeown

Wednesday, 17 February 2021 

This is a strange Ash Wednesday – without ashes available for most people. And that raises the question as to what Lent is about. Does the season of Lent have any meaning without the big black mark on your forehead?

Lent is the season when we remember two clear Christian beliefs. Firstly, any outside observer would easily find evidence that we have made a mess of the world. Secondly, we are not trapped in our mess and we can do something about it.

Lent 2021 takes on a particular character. Much of what our society took for granted has been shaken to the foundations. That applies in church and outside. Our Lenten practices this year are a prayer to God asking that the Lord guide us in how we remodel the Church so that it can bring divine mercy and healing to all the pain and distress of our society.

This first day of Lent, I invite Catholics and all people of good will to take up the Lenten practices, not as an irrelevant pious practice but as a commitment to serve the Common Good through God's grace.

Firstly, we are invited to make time for prayer. Praying is not just about some magical conversation where we hope that God will listen to our babbling. Prayer is deliberately finding silence and space in the midst of all the many voices that are shouting for our attention. Prayer opens up a transcendent horizon that rebels against the one-dimensional message of me and the market. Prayer says that the computer or TV screen are not the only source of truth, meaning and joy. Prayer allows the Lord time to mould our heart in accordance with his ways.

Fasting and penance are not a miserable temporary burden. They are a deliberate choice to say that I am not a sad slave of what the market tells me I need. Feeding your hungers will never lead to physical or spiritual fitness. 'Obey your thirst' and 'Let's feel good' may serve the profits of big companies. But they do not make for health and happiness. Making sacrifices is a bid for freedom and a statement that I am immeasurably more than my hungers. We do not live on bread alone, Jesus says. He also asked his first disciples, What do you seek? Fasting makes space for us to give an answer to that profound question. When you feel a hunger for some food, you can ask yourself what it is that you really hunger for. You can't buy love, forgiveness and healing over the counter.

The third Lenten practice is almsgiving, concern for the needy. There are so many forms of poverty around the world and around the corner. Charities have shown how they can do things that the state does not offer. Christians encourage generous giving in imitation of the generosity of God towards us in Jesus.

This year we have to focus, not on why we are not getting ashes, but on what we are called to do this Lent. If we want to repent and let God remodel our hearts, making us a stronger prophetic voice for Christ in our society, then prayer, fasting and almsgiving are powerful weapons in that struggle. It means opening our horizons through prayer, pushing our bodies through penance and challenging our selfishness through almsgiving. It involves dying to ourselves so that Christ's risen life can become master of our lives. Without some dying during Lent, there is no Resurrection at Easter.

Ash Wednesday is just one day. Lent lasts for six weeks. What we do in love for Christ is of eternal value. Today is a chance to make a mark, not merely on our foreheads, but on our lives. Make this a special Lent.

+ Donal McKeown

A message for Lent

I think Prayer and Fasting and Almsgiving, stretching our hearts to make room for God's dream is important so that the Lord can lead us into the future with confidence and trust in the wisdom of His ways.

by Bishop Donal McKeown
Sr Nathalie Becquart in discussion with the Net Yo...

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Diocesan Offices
St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302

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