Ash wednesday, Year A

‘The candle that is just smoking, not lit, still has life in it; it still has hope in it. If a neighbour, family member or friend is in a very bad situation or mood, our mission is to show him/her the spark and light it.”

I can’t think of a more beautiful way for us to think of what we do on Ash Wednesday than the above. It in fact and essence sums up the story of Lent. Lent, of course, is a time of penance, prayer and almsgiving. It is a time when we are specially invited to turn our hearts back to God. We give up things: chocolate or dessert or meat or pleasure or something we love. We fast from food. We offer alms. We stay away from mischief. All of this, we hope, will focus our hearts and souls, drawing us closer to God and preparing us for the great feast of Easter. It all begins today with the sign of the cross, marked with ashes on our foreheads. It is a way of saying “We are dust. We are sinners. We have work to do.”

Another message is this: these ashes reveal that we are people who have burned out. Our flame has turned to smoke. The ash is what remains of the smouldering wick. During Lent, we are praying to bring back the light.

As the above quotation says, this candle is just smoking—a sliver of ash and wax—still has life, still has hope. There is a spark waiting. An ember still glows. Our job over these 40 days is to bring it alive.

Two thousand years ago, a group of haunted, fearful people gathered in an upper room and prayed. And in that room, the fire fell. Tongues of flame appeared. Those people illuminated the world with the Holy Spirit. We still carry that fire with us and within us. Today, when you leave this place and go into the world, remember that. The ashes show what we were, what we are. They show the mortal fate that awaits us all. But they also remind us of what we can be. By the grace of God, we can be bearers of light.

Take note of it - in others and ourselves. Every glass door, every bathroom mirror, every reflection in a passing bus or subway car will remind us that we are marked, people. We need that stark reminder. See it and understand what it represents: sin and sorrow, the remnant of a flame. But that’s not the whole story. It’s only the beginning. See these ashes and think of the fire waiting to be lit in each of us - the embers that will be stirred by prayer and sacrifice and charity and hope. Remember the words, “The candle that is smoking still has life in it, still has hope.”

This Lent, stir the embers into a flame - and pray for that flame of faith to spread. Pray, my friends, to set the world ablaze. ARE YOU GOING THROUGH a tough time? Does your heart need some joyful renewal? Would a touch of hope help your spirits? Or are you a struggling farmer or feeling careworn in the food industry? If so, the Old Testament prophet Joel might be a good person to get to know. Because we hear him only a few times at Mass, many Catholics probably feel a weak connection to him. Even so, this “minor prophet” is worth knowing.

– By Fr. Innocent Abonyi, MSP

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