Ash Wednesday-Archbishop B. O’Brien

Homily by Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien

Ash Wednesday

St. Mary’s Cathedral

March 6, 2019


Today, on this Ash Wednesday, we begin our Lenten period of personal and communal conversion and spiritual renewal, the purpose of which is to renew our adherence to the gospel and to the mission given us at baptism to be ambassadors for Christ.


In the second reading, we are reminded that Jesus, in taking on the sins of the world through his death on the cross, brought about our reconciliation with God.  On Good Friday, when we come to venerate the cross, we acknowledge this when we say, “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the saviour of the world.”


On Ash Wednesday, we use the symbol of ashes and the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”, to express our belief and desire to be forgiven of our sins, a forgiveness made possible through the cross.  When the ashes are placed on our forehead in the form of a cross and we hear the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”, we are reminded that repentance is not just feeling bad about the past and asking for forgiveness, but involves something more positive, as well as a desire to look at our life and correct the direction in which it is may have been going.


To assist us in making this happen, we are given certain tools: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  We see in our gospel passage that Jesus doesn’t say, “if you pray, if you fast, if you give alms”; he says, “whenever you pray, whenever you fast, whenever you give alms”.  The emphasis is on the way to carry out these actions so that they will have the desired effect.

As the prophet Joel says in the first reading, “rend your hearts and not your clothing”.  The emphasis is on an inner change of the heart and not  just an external show or observance.


So today, in our Ash Wednesday liturgy, we give thanks for  the great sacrifice of Christ on the cross, which makes our reconciliation with God possible.  And as we are signed  with this image of the cross traced in ashes on our forehead, we acknowledge our need for forgiveness as individuals and as Church, and our desire to commit ourselves by our words and deeds to that great message so succinctly stated in the gospel of St. John:


“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 3:16