2nd March, 2020

Homily for Ash Wednesday

Abbey

Please see below Fr Gabriel's Homily for the Presentation of The Lord:

The opening prayer of today’s Mass asks that we begin a campaign of Christian service with holy fasting, so that, as we take up a battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

To some tastes the language may be offputtingly militaristic, but it is of course well grounded in Scripture and the Rule. Jesus warns his followers that he has come not to bring peace, at least as the world understands it, but a sword.

St Paul warns in Ephesians of spiritual war: ‘Put on the full armour of God so as to be able to resist the devil’s tactics. For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces who are master of the darkness in this world, the spirits of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up all God’s armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day, to stand your ground even though you exert yourselves to the full.’

As early as verse 3 of the Prologue of the Rule, St Benedict calls the one who listens with the ear of the heart to be armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord. Towards the end of the Rule the image comes again: in chapter 61 on visiting monks we have: ‘wherever we may be, we are in the service of the same Lord and doing battle for the same King’.

But then to those who might take the military images too superficially, there is this further point to grasp. The battle is not as the world conceives it, for the weapons are self-restraint, obedience, and in today’s Gospel, fasting, prayer and almsgiving, the showing of love to others. Sunday’s gospel reminded us that this is love too shown to enemies.

Furthermore, victory is not going to be secured by one’s own strength, skill and prowess; as St Paul put it one will not triumph in any of these ways how ever full the exertion. We begin this Lenten fast trusting only in the Lord. And the one in whom we trust is himself a vanquished Saviour, who triumphs only in the cross.

And his victory procession is only ever a procession of penitents, marked with the image of that cross, signed with the ashes of repentance. We come to this Ash Wednesday Mass, in our procession of penitents, remembering that we are dust, repenting and believing in this Gospel of our redemption and salvation, becoming in him, the sinless one who makes himself sin for us, his goodness and righteousness.

Lent puts before us the whole mystery of salvation, through which God's merciful love is revealed in Jesus Christ. We ask God our Father for his help that we may use this season of preparation for Easter wisely and well.

We pray for all Christians at the beginning of this season of Lent that we may not neglect the grace we have received, but turn again to the Lord in fervent prayer and repentance.

Lord, in your mercy

We pray for all the leaders of the world, that, by their laws, they may promote peace and reconciliation. Lord, in your mercy

We pray for those who are caught in the snare of sin, for a change of heart, and that they may turn again to the light of grace, and abandon the ways of sin. Lord, in your mercy

We pray for the members of this congregation, that the giving of ashes today be a sign to us that material things will disappear, and help us to give more attention to the things of the spirit.
Lord, in your mercy

Concluding prayer:
Father, complete your work of spiritual renewal during Lent, and throughout the years ahead, as we spend our lives in your loving, prayerful service. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.