Hundreds of people spent their lunch hour at St. Joseph Cathedral Feb. 14 to celebrate Mass and receive ashes from Bishop Richard J. Malone on Ash Wednesday.
The following is a transcript of Bishop Malone's homily during the Mass.
Before we distribute ashes, I'd ask you to reflect on a personal deep way, on this question, why do you want to see ashes today? What will you allow the meaning of this gesture to be?
On the first Sunday of Lent, Catholic cathedrals around the world will welcome tens of thousands of people who are not yet Christian, or perhaps they're protestant Christians, who decided after prayer and reflection to become members of the Catholic Church. In our own Cathedral Sunday afternoon, 140 people, mostly adults and some young people, will come here to declare, "We have prepared and we are ready now to receive the sacraments of initiation of Easter; to be baptized, to be confirmed and to receive the Eucharist." It's always a day of great excitement in the life of the Church.
Lent began in the early centuries of the Church as a preparation for those adults getting ready for baptism. It's a time of fasting, absence, prayer and charity so that during these weeks of Lent, when they got to the Easter celebration, their hearts and souls would be ready. It worked so to help prepare those converts, that over time, the Church said, "Let's do this for the whole Catholic community as a time for renewal, a spiritual springtime." That's why we're here today, as we begin the holy season of Lent.
The scripture, the Gospel today (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18) , reminds us not to be hypocrites. That wording means "an actor." An actor is a person, as an example, is someone who would get ashes today and then go out and eat a nice, juicy cheeseburger. Or a person who receives ashes and then goes out and picks a fight with someone. For me, I might get impatient about something in my office. The ashes need to be a sign to ourselves, to one another and to God, that the (meaning) needs to be renewal and transformation in our lives.
I know what mine is this Lent, you know what yours is, I'm sure, but any of the things we do ... the things we give up, the extra actions we take on, the fasting and abstinence required on these days, is only important in so far it is a sign of our willingness to change inside. Maybe it's an attitude, maybe it's a way of doing things, today we commit ourselves to renew, for today, as we heard in the scripture, is the day of salvation.