Homily of H.E. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we thank God for bringing us to this day, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season.
We recall how a year ago, after Ash Wednesday, in many countries in the world, the lockdown was imposed because of the pandemic. And here we are, another Ash Wednesday. We have survived! Thanks be to God!
But we cannot deny that this past year we also have experienced - as one family, human family - so many scars, wounds, even deaths. We bring all of these to this Lenten season of 2021.
We prepare ourselves to celebrate baptism and to renew our baptismal promises. We want to join Jesus as baptized in His dying so that we could also rise to new life.
And for us in the Philippines, this is significant. Because this year 2021, we’re celebrating the 500th anniversary of the first baptism. The first baptism. So let us spend this whole Lenten season in preparing ourselves as baptized. To die with Christ. According to St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, it’s a dying with Christ. Baptism is a dying with Christ and also rising to new life with Christ.
Our readings present to us a journey.
In the first reading from the prophet Joel, we are told to return to the Lord. It is the Lord who is inviting His own people, “Return to me”.
And in the second reading, St. Paul considers himself an ambassador of Christ as if God were appealing through us. It’s not Paul who is appealing to the people. It is God through the prophet and through the apostle addressing the people, “Return to me”.
Why? Where have the people gone? Why will they be called to return? If they have stayed with God then they will not be told to return.
But this is one image of sinfulness: departing from God, breaking a relationship with God.
And so the Lord is asking us to return to him.
For returning to him means returning also to our true selves. It’s a return to our neighbors. It is a return to our responsibility for society and the whole of creation. Returning to the Lord.
Where do we often go? Why is the Lord not our favorite destination? What is our favorite destination? Well, what else? The self.
That’s why in the opening prayer for today’s mass we prayed for self-restraint.
‘Cause at the prodding of the self, we obey. Kumulo lang tiyan, um, kain agad. Pero ang Diyos kulo na ng kulo walang naririnig. Mangati lang ng kaunti...ang Diyos ganyan na ng ganyan wala, walang nararamdaman. Self.
And in the Gospel we are taught that even very spiritual activities and other-oriented activities could be misused.
Jesus considers hypocrisy doing good deeds for people to recognize me. That is hypocrisy. It is not the external good deeds. The external good deeds are done but the purpose of a hypocrite is so that I would be noticed. So that I would be recognized. So that I would be praised. That’s why Jesus (said) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them, otherwise you will not get any recompense from the Father because you prayed but you did not return to the Father. You used prayer to return to the self. You fast but it is not a fasting in order to deepen my dependence of God but it is to show to the world how pious I am. I give alms but the alms are not really a help to others. It is a help to my prestige. Blow the trumpet! “Oh, photo naman, photographer!” “Oh, why is my name very small on the wall of donors? I gave more so my name should be bigger - bigger than the name of the patron saint of the chapel.”
Where are we going? Are we going to the self again? Or are we going to God?
Jesus went to Jerusalem.
And the Pope’s message for this Lenten Season is an invitation for us to go with Jesus to Jerusalem. He would take this journey only for God. In obedience to God. And by obeying God he will offer his life for others.
We pray that as we receive the ashes, we would hear the words of Jesus: “REPENT”. Meaning: “Return to the Lord and believe in the Gospel".
Or the other version which the whole pandemic has taught us: We are dust. Before a virus, we become confused, we become helpless. The whole pandemic is a loud declaration, “You are dust and unto dust, you will return.”
We hear it on Ash Wednesday but the past year is a loud declaration of this. Do not be proud.
Do not be proud.
Before a mysterious virus, we are all paralyzed. So return to God. Recognize his power. Restrain yourselves. Avoid hypocrisy.
Delivered live from the Pontificio Collegio Filippino, Rome
via Facebook livestreaming.
Watch the mass at the Facebook pages of Pontificio Collegio Filippino or Dominus Est PH.