Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's homily at Ash Wednesday Mass: 6 February 2008
posted on 06 February 2008
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, gave the following Homily at a Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Ash Wednesday, 6 February 2008.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
In a few minutes’ time ashes will be put on your foreheads and the words said “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. And a prayer is said: “Lord, bless the sinner who asks for your forgiveness and bless all those who receive these ashes. May they keep this Lenten season in preparation for the joys of Easter.”
These 40 days are very precious ones in the life of our Christian Catholic people. The readings remind us so clearly of the appeal of the Church and the counsel of the Church. St Paul says: “Be reconciled to God. Now is the favourable time, now is the day of salvation.” So these 40 days are days when each one of us renews our repentance, renews our desire, our effort, to believe and practise the life of faith in the Gospel. The Church very clearly gives us three counsels which are all expressed in the words of Jesus in the Gospel today. They are prayer and fasting and almsgiving.
First of all prayer. I cannot tell you how to pray. Each one of you has his or her own way of praying. There’s no golden rule. But one thing is sure. The most precious thing you can give in the matter of prayer is time. Your time. So I’d like each one of you to give some time – five minutes, 15 minutes or more – each day, during Lent, to praying. And have something to help you pray. Maybe a copy of the Gospels to read a passage or some spiritual reading which will enable you to reflect, to contemplate the word of God and to be in communion with God and listen to Him and pray to Him.
Number one is prayer. Number two is fasting. And by fasting what Jesus is saying is not just a question of fasting from food. It seems to me fasting means a discipline of life. Each one of us is called to be a disciple of Jesus. And you cannot be a disciple without discipline. The very word disciple involves discipline. And so we are asked during Lent to involve ourselves, to choose some discipline, to discipline our life so that we become more like Jesus. Jesus, yes, named his love for others. Jesus in His own discipline of life in obedience to the will of the Father. Each one of you must make a choice of what kind of discipline in your own life you choose to enable you to follow Jesus more closely.
And, thirdly, almsgiving. I’ve just come back from a visit to Southern Africa and, in particular, to Zimbabwe. And I was appalled by the poverty and the seeming hopelessness of the millions of people who are there. Meeting there a nun who was caring for HIV/AIDS victims. She said the situation is really hopeless. But even if we have drugs there isn’t enough for them to eat so that they can become better and survive. But she said the only answer to hopelessness is love. And I think each one of us must find a way which in our own lives, in our own situation, we look after or care for the needy. Those who are sick. And each one of you must decide in what way you respond to Jesus’ invitation to almsgiving. Not just of money but perhaps even more of your time and care for those in need.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Lent is upon us. And, strangely, the preface of today’s Mass speaks about this being a joyful season. And in a sense it is. Because it’s joyful because we are asked to follow Jesus Christ, our master, and in following him we experience joy. Joy of knowing we do God’s will. Joy in following the Gospel of Jesus. The good news that brings us salvation. And so we pray: ‘Father, through our observance of Lent help us to understand the meaning of your son’s death and resurrection and teach us to reflect it in our own lives. Amen”