Ash Wednesday (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18)




On Ash Wednesday, we begin a spiritual journey, a renewal of our existence and a rediscovery of our life with God. The journey is rooted in the words that we will hear in a few moments when ashes are placed on us: "Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel. It is the message of Christ himself: turn away from darkness, evil and death and begin walking towards light, goodness and life. We set out on this journey by undertaking those spiritual exercises described by our Lord in the Gospel today: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

This year our Lenten observance could well be focused on prayer and fasting for the cause of peace, especially in the Middle East. Fasting is not just a denial of self for the sake of denial; it is not depriving ourselves of some food for this one day. Rather, with fasting, we prepare to follow Christ, and through it we can understand better the difficulties and suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters, oppressed by hunger, misery and war. Through fasting we become one with those who are hungry, without homes and living without the basic necessities of life.

This is the root of the Church's call to peace in these times of such apprehension over the danger of war. The Church announces that peace is always possible, because of our deep concern for those who will suffer as a result of armed conflict. So we begin this Lent with the firm conviction that peace is in fact a gift of God that we must invoke with humble and insistent trust. As Christians, we are called to be messengers of peace in the places in which we live and work.

Peace is built on four pillars: truth, justice, love and freedom. The Church believes that peace can always be constructed even in the darkest moments. We believe in the power of the human mind and in the courage of the human heart to find peaceful solutions to disagreements, using the rich patrimony of international law and institutions created for that very purpose. They may be incomplete; they may act too slowly at times: they may not have yet even caught up with realities of our times that threaten world order. But they are based on principles that are true and relevant to all times: honest and patient dialogue between disagreeing parties and the absolute duty of each member of our family, community and Nation to comply fully with all our obligations. That is why we believe that war is a defeat for humanity; that is, it is a defeat of our intelligence, our creativity, and our firm conviction that peace is always possible.

In a few moments, ashes will be placed on our heads. They will remind us of our fragility and of our finiteness. They will remind us of where we came from and to where we shall return. We know that in our human imperfection we may always live under the threat of war, but we also know that united to "Christ, our peace" (Eph. 2: 14) we can safeguard and preserve that same precious gift of peace (GS, 78, 6).

Based on a homily of Cardinal Pio Laghi, on Ash Wednesday 2003