17th February, 2021

Fr Abbot's Homily for Ash Wednesday

Ampleforth Abbey


There is a very wonderful story told in the Jewish apocryphal book: ‘The Life of Adam and Eve’. The story is told of Adams final illness and the journey that Seth and Eve take back to the garden of Eden because they hope to retrieve some of the ‘oil of mercy’ from the tree of life. As they come near the entrance to the garden who should appear but Michael the Archangel. “And what might you be doing here?” he asks. They explain the sickness of Adam and their hope that if they were just allowed to obtain a little of the oil of mercy this would cure him. Michael of course reminds them that this is not possible, they had their chance and now Adam will die. That is where the Jewish account ends.

Latter Christian writers found this too harsh a response and added: “You cannot receive the oil of mercy until the last days, after 550 years have passed, but then God will come upon the earth to resurrect the body of Adam and with him the bodies of all the dead...then he will anoint those who believe in him with the oil of his mercy.

Inevitably Lent takes us right back to the beginning of the story of our salvation, right back to Genesis 1-3. Created for glory, formed to be sharers in the divine life, to be as it were the first incarnation of God’s ‘word made flesh’, human beings, in our first parents Adam and Eve, choose badly. Original sin, therefore, of which we all participate is not a question of having done something wrong but rather lacking something essential — human nature deprived of divine life. When God first breathed into Adam air wasn’t it that entered the nostrils, but eternal life. He breathed his own life into Adam — a person,the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Sadly because of sin we ate now born deprived, not depraved, we’re born lacking the life we were meant to have. We are born dead, divinely speaking. Hence this joyful season of Lent is an invitation to wake up from this walking death and to rediscover the life that we were created to enjoy. So, the things we will choose to do during Lent are the means whereby we can become fully alive in Christ. So, think carefully and choose wisely what you will take on during these 40 days. How will these spiritual tools empower you and me to breathe the Spirit of life? Indeed, how will this Lenten journey enable you and me to be a source of life for others.

Abbot Robert Igo OSB
Wednesday 17th February 2021