‘Without You, O Christ, I am a finished person’

Lent 2023 – Ash Wednesday

On Feb. 22, Bishop Raica celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul, marking Ash Wednesday. The complete text of the bishop's homily follows herein.


My sisters and brothers, Ash Wednesday remains one of those evocative events that lives deeply in the Christian imagination of Christians and even some non-believers and those searching for something in a common gesture of public witness.

In addition to the readings that summon us into a period of deep introspection, we find ourselves wanting to better ourselves, improve ourselves, strip away the dead weight that hinders a deeper understanding of ourselves. Who are we? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life?

During the distribution of ashes, we are confronted with one of two statements that should shake the foundations of our being.

  1. Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return; and
  2. Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel!

Let’s take a brief look at these as we enter this great liturgical season of opportunity we call “Lent.”

The first one taken from the book of Genesis – “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return” - are sobering words. They remind us of our limitations, our mortality. It speaks to us about the fragility of our life: our worries, our anxieties, our fears. Are we really just dust? Are we nothing? Is all life a kind of illusion? Is it like a flower that blossoms in the morning and withers in the evening? We know our physical reality, our bodies, have a finiteness that weighs upon our own sense of ourselves. 

One could readily argue, “What’s the use? What’s the purpose of my life?” Lent calls us to go deeper into the mystery of ourselves and journey with the Lord as He makes His way to the cross, where it was thought, “That’s it …that’s the end … all of our hopes are gone.” Providentially, from our vantage point today, we know the rest of the story!

The second phrase – “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel” – are promising words.  We know our failings, our shortcomings, our addictions, our desire for freedom, our urge for truth, our longing to become, truly alive, truly hope-filled. Our sins weigh us down. Our sins worry us. Our broken relationships haunt us. Our failings shadow us relentlessly sometimes. We find ourselves thinking of them often in the hidden parts of our mind. It’s like we give those things a “rent free space” in our memories.

Our challenge here is to turn toward the Gospel (i.e., to turn toward Christ!). We call the Gospel the “Good News.” It is a place where we hear about the mercy, forgiveness, and love of God. It is the place where we are called out of the snare that drags us down, looking instead to that which will lift us up and give us hope.

Yes, the Gospel is called Good News. It is not “fake news,” and in the Gospel there are not “alternative facts.” There is the promise that Jesus Himself gives. Follow Me, the “way, the truth, and the life.” I will give you not just life in this world but something that everyone else keeps trying to find, a way to live forever - eternal life.

So, my brothers and sisters, I have always found during every Lenten season challenges to our faith are put on our path. They can make us doubt, despair, lose hope, make us question whether this is the place for us? It happened to the Apostles, the disciples, the early Church, and it happens for us, too. We can conclude, “What’s the use?”  Or, we can say, “I follow Christ” because, like many of the saints concluded: “Without You, O Christ, I am a finished person. I am a finite person. I am merely dust.”

Turn away from sin, believe in the Gospel, the Good News. May we journey with Christ through our tried-and-true program of Lent – prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and gestures of charity. Through them, we will experience the extreme makeover we read about in the Scriptures that is truly part of God’s love and mercy. May God bless you abundantly this Lenten season!