7 Ash Wednesday Quotes by Pope Saint John Paul II

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day we enter the great penitential season of Lent, a season that draws our attention to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. For many, this season is about “giving something up” (in today’s technological world that would be social media on our phones or limiting our phone time in general). However, you can give anything up or even take something on. Whatever your Lenten fast is this year, I encourage to do it, and to do it well with the help of God’s grace.

Fasting though is only one-third of the Lenten theme, we must also pray and give alms. Since prayer is our encounter with God, adding times to pray to our daily routine would be extremely beneficial to each and every one of us. A simple addition of prayer is signing up for Eucharistic Adoration in your parish or a nearby parish. Spending that extra hour in prayer each week will for sure increase your encounter with God. I really want to add more prayer time to my day, not just during these next 40 days, so that’s why I am working on adding the Liturgy of the Hours to my daily prayer routine.

For alms, if you have a favorite charity or don’t give to your parish, increasing your financial donations during the next 40 days will assist you in meeting the alms obligation during Lent. Since I am getting married in seven months, I am going to continue to clean out my closets and give away any clothes I don’t wear to shelters or St. Joseph the Worker, a local shelter here in the Phoenix area. Please don’t forget, there are many people less fortunate that need our assistance.

To help us prepare for this Ash Wednesday and Lent of this year, I now turn our attention to 7 Ash Wednesday Quotes from Pope Saint John Paul II. These quotes are come from his homilies and messages given to the Church and the world on the Ash Wednesday’s of his amazing Papacy –

1. “Today the Church lays great stress on this truth, confirmed by the history of every man. Remember that “to dust you shall return”. Remember that your life on earth has a limit!… Therefore the message of Ash Wednesday is expressed with the words of St. Paul: “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:20-21). Collaborate with him!”

2. “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. This invitation, which we find at the beginning of Jesus’ preaching, introduces us into the Lenten season, a time to be dedicated in a special way to conversion and renewal, to prayer, to fasting and to works of charity. In recalling the experience of the chosen people, we too set out as it were to retrace the journey that Israel made across the desert to the Promised Land. We too will reach our goal; after these weeks of penance, we will experience the joy of Easter. Our eyes, purified by prayer and penance, will be able to behold with greater clarity the face of the living God, to whom man makes his own pilgrimage on the paths of earthly life.”

John Paul II placing ashes on the head of a Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos in 2004. 

3. “During Lent, we prepare to relive the Paschal Mystery, which sheds the light of hope upon the whole of our existence, even its most complex and painful aspects. Holy Week will again set before us this mystery of salvation in the evocative rites of the Easter Triduum. Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us set out with trust on our Lenten journey, sustained by fervent prayer, penance and concern for those in need. In particular, may this Lent be a time of ever greater concern for the needs of children, in our own families and in society as a whole: for they are the future of humanity.”

4. “‘Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6: 4, 6, 18). Jesus’ words are addressed to each one of us at the beginning of our Lenten journey. We begin it with the imposition of ashes, an austere penitential gesture very dear to Christian tradition. It emphasizes the awareness of sinners as they stand before the majesty and holiness of God. At the same time, it demonstrates readiness to accept and to transform into concrete choices adherence to the Gospel.”

5. “The Church lives Christ’s redemptive sacrifice throughout the liturgical year. However, in the season of Lent we would like to immerse ourselves in it in a particularly intense way, as the Apostle urges us: “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6:2). In this important season, the treasures of Redemption, merited for us by Christ crucified and risen, are dispensed to us in a most particular way. Thus the Psalmist’s exclamation: “Create in me a clean heart … and put a new and right spirit within men becomes at the beginning of Lent a strong call to conversion.

6. “Why does the Church place ashes on our foreheads today? Why does she remind us of death? Death which is the effect of sin! Why?…To prepare us for Christ’s Passover. For the paschal mystery of the Redeemer of the world. Paschal mystery means what we profess in the Creed: “On the third day he rose again”!…Yes. Today we need to hear the “you are dust and to dust you will return” of Ash Wednesday, so that the definitive truth of the Gospel, the truth about the Resurrection, will unfold before us: believe in the Gospel.”

7. “By inviting us through the discipline of Lent to tread the paths of love and hope marked out by Christ, the Church makes us realize that the Christian life involves detachment from superfluous goods, and the acceptance of a poverty which sets us free, and enables us to discover God’s presence and to welcome our brothers and sisters with an ever more active solidarity and in an ever wider fellowship.”

So as we step into this Lenten season, I pray that each of us upholds our penances and sacrifices with a fervent desire to grow closer to Our Lord Jesus and his Catholic Church. Ask for the intercession of the Holy Mother of God to give you the strength to offer up the next 40 days to Our Lord. Pray with the Saints, many who knew the day-to-day meaning of penance and sacrifice.

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Three Ash Wednesday Homilies from Pope St. John Paul II

We are exactly 54 days away from the Canonization of Pope St. John Paul II (and Pope St. John XXIII), which will take place on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, 2014. Continuing with what I have been doing over the past year, and really the entire time I have been writing here, I want to provide you with some of the words of the soon-to-be saint.

Since we are such a “now” or “microwave” generation, I think many of us forget about the great theologians, philosophers, writers, and saints of the past very quickly. I try to make an effort in my own life not to forget about these great writings, even though some were written over 500-1000 years ago. Just because it’s not in front of our face at this very moment doesn’t mean things weren’t said or didn’t happen.

For this Lent, I am going to read Saint Teresa of Avila’sThe Way of Perfection. If I get through that, I will take up her Interior Castle or Saint John of the Cross‘, Dark Night of the Soul. There’s nothing like a little Carmelite mystical theology to help ones faith and prayer life.

Since today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, I provide you with three Ash Wednesday homilies from Pope St. John Paul II. I hope you have the time to read them and meditate on the words from the great Polish Pope.

1. Ash Wednesday Homily, February 28, 1979 – First Year as Pope

2. Ash Wednesday Homily, March 8, 2000 – Jubilee Year

3. Ash Wednesday Homily, February 25, 2004 – Last Ash Wednesday Homily (even though he entered Eternal Glory in 2005).

Pope St. John Paul II…Pray For Us!

Psalm 51 – Have Mercy on Me, O God…

Now that we are officially into the season of Lent, I wanted to write on something that would be beneficial to this Lenten season and really anytime we have sinned and are seeking forgiveness. As I was praying before Mass on Ash Wednesday, my next blog post was on my mind. I opened up my Daily Roman Missal and read that Psalm 51 was going to be the Psalm for the day and the two days to follow.

Honestly, I love this psalm! It’s by far one my favorite psalms in the Psalter. This psalm was always a favorite of mine, but after taking a class in graduate school on the Psalms with Dr. John Bergsma, this scripture text became even more fruitful for me. It’s the perfect psalm to begin the Lenten Season since its focus is on repentance and forgiveness.

Psalm 51, the Miserere, is one of the most popular psalms in the Psalter (prayed every Friday in the Liturgy of the Hours), yet it is also one of the most difficult psalms to pray because of it’s nature – it’s a song about sin and asking for forgiveness. It’s a prayer that focuses on guilt and God’s grace. I don’t know about you, but these are topics I tend to avoid because it’s hard to admit at times my own faults and sins.

Over the centuries, this psalm has been on the lips of many Jews and Christians seeking repentance for their sins, but historically, this psalm was more than likely composed by King David after he committed the sin of carnal knowledge with Bathsheba (the prophet Nathan called him out). In Psalm 51, we see David as the Repentant Sinner. Over the past two years teaching high school theology, at least one of my students understands the exact time this psalm should be recited for us Catholics – before or after receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In Psalm 51:1-2, David feels the magnitude of his guilt and is very sick from the sin he just committed.  He prays fervently that God will not take his mercy from him – “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your merciful love, according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”

Now it should be understood that term mercy is translated in the Hebrew as hesed (covenant love/fidelity).  I spoke about this term in the reflection on Psalm 41. David is hoping that God will not take away his hesed from him. If you replace the term hesed or covenant love for the word mercy the entire two verses completely change – try it now. David does not want God to take away the love that he established with him when he formed the covenant in 2 Samuel 7.  David is fearful that God will remove his hesed from him. Those of you that are familiar with the words that a priest says in Mass before the Consecration should know verse 2 very well – “wash me of my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” He says this as he is washing his hands just before he consecrates the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

In verses 3-6, David continues to ask for repentance. He is aware of his sins and clearly sees them. It’s not just the sin with Bathsheba that is the issue, but that he has offended the hesed that God has given to him. In verse 5, David speaks of the sin he was conceived in. As Christians, we clearly see this at the doctrine of original sin that is taught by the Church.  David is fully aware that God has given him the intellect to know that he has sinned and the ability to confess his sin and make amends.

In Verses 7-9, David continues to ask for forgiveness and to be healed of the illness that has overtaken his life. Now there is an interesting statement in verse 7 – “purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” A hyssop was a brush like branch that grew in the Middle East. The Israelites used the branch to spread the blood of the lamb on the doorposts before the Death of the Firstborn (the last plague) in Egypt and it’s also used to lift up a sponge filled with wine to Jesus while he is on the cross. David is either using the branch to sprinkle water upon himself as a ritual cleaning or maybe he is using the branch as mortification and he is purging himself as penance for the sins he committed.

As Catholics we may no longer use physical mortifications as penance as much, but when we do our penance after the Sacrament of Confession, we are mortifying ourselves from the sins we just confessed. At times and depending on the severity our sins, this is very painful.

In verses 10-12, we see David seeking not only a physical healing from his sins, but he seeks an internal healing as well when he says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” He seeks God’s loyalty and wants a heart, a heart that is circumcised (Dt 30:6) and made new. Simply, he wants to remain in God’s presence! Blessed John Paul II says in his book, Psalms and Canticles, “The Psalm, however, was enriched in later centuries, by the prayer of so many sinners, who recovered the themes of the “new heart” and of the “Spirit” of God placed within the redeemed human person, according to the teaching of the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.”

For us a Catholics, after the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not only are we healed physically because our sins hurt the Body of Christ, but we are also healed internally and souls are made new. We walk out of the “Medicine Box” as saints!

In verses 13-17, David vows to make God’s ways known to all men. He desires to speak of God and to praise him in all that does, even in the face of those who despise him. After committing this terrible sin, David seeks to do contrition. As Catholics, we say an Act of Contrition in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to confess all that we have done, give praise back to God, and to avoid sin and the near occasion of sin. Just as David said his contrition to God, so must our contrition be said to God as well.

Verses 18-19 were more than likely added on at a later date during the rule of Nebuchadnezzar after the Temple had been destroyed and the city of Jerusalem set in ruin.

This is an important psalm that should be read and prayed more often, especially during the Lenten Season. I would encourage you to place these words on the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ while he suffers and dies for our sins on the cross.  As I stated above, this is a great psalm when entering or exiting the Sacrament of Confession.

As Catholics, we should look to the great saint and Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, who could have prayed this psalm many times during his conversion to the Catholic Church – “I know my fault; my sin is always before me…my sacrifice is a contrite spirit…a new heart create in me, O God…”

May this Lent be fruitful and filled with God’s blessings.

Ash Wednesday and Lent Explained in 120 Seconds

This is a great explanation of Ash Wednesday and Lent in only 120 Seconds by Busted Halo.

We must remember that Lent is not just about giving something up, BUT IT’S CONFORMING OUR WILL TO GOD’S WILL. So many of us give up food, alcohol, candy, soda, social media sites, etc. Those are good sacrifices, if we are truly addicted to those items – don’t give up alcohol if you only drink it a few times a year…where is the sacrifice in that?

We must remember to take on something that will allow us to know God’s will in our own lives. Some possibilities are – Go to  Daily Mass a couple times a week, Weekly Adoration, Pray the Rosary (greatest weapon against Satan according to St. Padre Pio), shut off the car radio in the morning and pray, pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, pray Stations of the Cross, Fast other than Fridays…in other words – Talk to Jesus!

In the end, it’s your choice what you “give up” or “take up” for your Lenten Penance. As adults in the faith, I think we need to be adults when we sacrifice. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11 – When I was child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

Giving things up is important, but taking on things is even more sacrificial.

Into the Desert We Go…