‘A providential moment to begin again’

Bishop Raica begins Lent 2024 with Ash Wednesday Mass

On Feb. 14, the bishop marked Ash Wednesday with Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

My sisters and brothers, the idea of Ash Wednesday as a beginning of our Lenten pilgrimage of renewal and as a reflection on our mortality is something that deeply touches humanity whether one is Christian or not.

After the bawdy excesses of Carnevale or Mardi Gras, we turn our attention on the radical austerity of the moment that we face today. What is the ultimate purpose and aim of my life? Am I going to live or die? Everything inside of me wants to live. That’s why we have doctors and hospitals to keep us alive and support systems in place like family and friends – to keep us alive. The further question is: Am I going to live forever? Is that even a possibility, or is death merely the closing of a parenthesis on my life – like an actor making an entrance on stage left and leaving on stage right, I’ve done my part, played my role, and then I’m gone, gone forever?

Grappling with our identity – who we are – we enter this season of Lent wondering if there can be greater meaning attached to life itself and to me. While we focus a lot on ourselves, our sins, habits, weaknesses, and dissatisfactions, we are given a new opportunity to examine them seriously and make a new resolve as we work toward Easter. It is a providential moment to begin again a new life. In fact, some suggest that as Christians, this is the time, Lent, when we should be making our New Year’s resolutions. We identify the areas of our life that are in need of attention, not in sync with our true identity as a child of God, develop some objectives to address our lives anew, and then put into action not only the changes we are trying to do but also to establish new systems, new habits, a new love for virtue that will sustain us becoming more coherent in our lives.            

It is a start, after all, as we contemplate the ashes that are imposed on our foreheads – to remember that we are but mere dust – that identify us as sinners on the way to perfection. Yet, it is something more. It says we are sinners who belong to Christ, our Savior. He will heal, restore, renew, and raise us up to life again.

In addition, we have heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, and we can turn away from sin and believe more fervently in the Gospel – the tidings of great joy that we will be redeemed, saved, and live forever! For us believers, the Gospel is not “fake news.” It doesn’t contain “alternative facts.” It is the clearest expression by divine revelation that we know Who the Savior is and that He has gone to Calvary out of love for us.

My dear people, we have come here today because we are people of hope. Our prayer, fasting, and works of charity along with the sacrament of penance are true gifts, arrows in our quiver, tools we can use to overcome every adversity, every sin. At every opportunity, we ought to leverage the gifts God has given us since He wants us to say “yes” to His invitation and then follow Him with all the freedom we can muster. What Jesus promises is true – we can live forever!

Finally, I close with something the great Pope St. John Paul II noted: “Let us not be content to remain in the shallow waters of faith, let us launch into the deep and trust the Lord of the harvest.” May God bless you abundantly this Lenten season!