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Overcoming Sin during Lent

Homily for Ash Wednesday

by Fr. Tommy Lane

The word “Lent” comes from an old English word which means “springtime” so it reminds us of spring cleaning and the new life in nature during spring. This season of Lent is a time of special grace for us in which we want to do some spring cleaning in our lives and enjoy new life as a result. Therefore we have come here today to acknowledge that we are sinners. We want to clean up our lives during Lent. We want to leave sin behind and grow closer to the Lord. We want a change of heart this Lent.

The words of the Lord through the prophet Joel in our first reading are words that have special significance for us today as we begin this season of Lent and are words that we can easily see the Lord speaking to us personally,

“Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.”
(Joel 2:12-13)

The words of Paul in our second reading to the Corinthians are also very relevant for us as we begin this season of Lent,

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor 5:20-21)

In the Scriptures when people left sin behind and turned over a new leaf they used ashes to symbolize their repentance. Job said, “I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) Daniel “turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” (Dan 9:3) Jesus said, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13). Therefore in a spirit of repentance we will take take ashes on our foreheads.

Sometimes people ask, “What are you doing for Lent?” There is one thing to give up during Lent – sin. This season of Lent is a preparation for renewing our baptismal promises during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. Paul says, when writing to the Romans (6:3-6), that when we were baptized we died to our old way of life to live a new way of life i.e. when we were baptized we died to our old sinful ways, we left sin behind. Therefore Paul says that when we were baptized we went into the tomb with Jesus and rose out of the tomb again with Jesus to a new life. The season of Lent is to give us time once again to die to our old sinful ways and rise out of the tomb with Jesus to a new way of life so that by the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night when we renew our baptismal vows we will also have renewed our lives. That is why the First Preface of Lent says,

Each year you give us this joyful season
when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery
with mind and heart renewed.

In our second reading Paul wrote to the Corinthians not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor 6:1). During Lent this year let us too not receive the grace of God in vain.

To show that we are serious about overcoming sin we do penance. Our penance during Lent as well as being a small attempt at reparation for our sins is a symbol of the change of heart we want to achieve. In the Gospel today (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18) Jesus spoke about prayer, fasting and giving alms. Since the early centuries these are three practices the Church has encouraged us to undertake during Lent as a form of penance: praying more, fasting and giving alms to the poor.

  • We fast today and on Good Friday and abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent. In a spirit of repentance we have always fasted from one of our favorite foods for the entire season of Lent e.g. candy. It is a way of showing that we love the Lord more than food and that we love the Lord more than sin.

  • There are many ways of giving alms. In helping other people we also love the Lord.

  • I hope Lent may also be for you a time of growing closer to the Lord by spending more time in prayer. This would also be a good time to renew praying the Rosary daily if you have been neglectful. Reading the Bible and reading spiritual books are also a great help.

I wish you a holy season of Lent, a joyful season of Lent, a time in which you grow closer to the Lord and leave sin behind. The Lord comes to us with a different grace in each season. May the grace God gives us during this season of Lent not be in vain. I conclude with the opening prayer of Mass,

Lord,
protect us in our struggle against evil.
As we begin the discipline of Lent,
make this season holy by our self-denial.
(Opening Prayer of Mass on Ash Wednesday)

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for Ash Wednesday

Related Homilies: Homilies on the First Sunday of Lent deal with prayer, fasting and almsgiving


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