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Thursday, March 23, 2017
Ash Wednesday homily by Archbishop Vincent Nichols
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¬†The following homily was given today by the Most Rev Vincent Nichols at St Chad's cathedral, Birmingham. Today the season of Lent begins. But where does it come from? Where are its origins? The first reading of our Mass today invites us to see that Lent has its origins in the initiative of the Lord: 'Now, now ≠ it is the Lord who speaks ≠ come back to me with all your heart, fasting weeping, mourning.turn to the Lord your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness.' (Joel 2.12.) Today each of us receives this invitation. It is extended to all: the elders, the children, even the infants; the newly weds and the priests. No one is beyond the call of our gracious God. Our part is to respond, attentively and with self-awareness. We are to answer that invitation, first of all in our hearts and then in our behaviour. As the Gospel reading makes clear, our prayer, our fasting and our almsgiving is to be done before God and not for the approval of one another ≠ although we can give and gain support from each other in our Lenten efforts. So at home, in school, in whatever company you keep, encourage each other to mark this Lent well. I am sure that our daily "Walk with Me" programme will assist you in this. There are still some booklets available at the back of the Cathedral, although not many. The first fruit of our response to the invitation of the Lord will be a growing awareness of our own sinfulness. To stand before God is to occupy an uncomfortable spot, not because of what God extends to us, but because of what we bring before God. We bring our own personal life with all its flaws and failings; we bring our world, broken by sin. We stand before the Lord this Lent, seeking his forgiveness and mercy. Today, on Ash Wednesday, we are urged by Pope John Paul to pray and fast for peace. The Holy Father says: "We Christians are to be sentinels of peace wherever we live and work. We are asked to watch out so that consciences may not yield to the temptation to egoism, lying and violence. Therefore I invite all Catholics to dedicate with special intensity Ash Wednesday to prayer and fasting for the cause of peace, especially in the Middle East. "Above all, let us ask God for the conversion of hearts and the farsightedness of just decisions to resolve with adequate and peaceful means the conflicts that impede the pilgrimage of humanity in our time." The Holy Father continues: "The common prayer will be accompanied by fasting, the expression of penance for the hatred and violence that poison human relations. Christians share the ancient practice of fasting with so many brothers and sisters of other religions, who in this way want to shed all pride and prepare themselves to receive from God the greatest and most necessary gifts, among which, in particular, is that of peace." What should be the focus of our prayer today: That hearts be changed; That the dignity of all people, all races and groups, be respected and not transgressed by tyranny; That international good order, such as it is, be strengthened and not thwarted by self-interest; That the clear demands of the United Nations, on which security and peace must be built, be observed. We are told today that the window for the peaceful resolution of the confrontation over Iraq remains open. Let us pray earnestly that this road is taken and for political leaders who face crucial decisions in the days ahead. We pray particularly for the people of Iraq in their uncertainty and dread and for military personnel and their families. Today we must pray, too, that the relationships between the world's religious families be strengthened. No matter what may occur in the weeks ahead we must be resolved to do all we can to protect the good relations being built between Christian, Jews and Muslims. Here in this city, today, Muslims at the Al-Mahdi Institute and Mosque are praying and fasting in solidarity with us, the city's Catholics. They pray and fast for peace. I thank them. We come before the Lord with our sinful selves and our broken world. As we accept the ashes let our hearts cry out to the Lord, that he will have mercy on us, heal our wounds and teach us his ways.
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