The Cuban Missile Crisis was a tumultuous time of world history. A thirteen day confrontation, in October, 1962, between the former Soviet Union and Cuba on one side and the United States on the other, launched all three countries into the serious possibility of mutual assured destruction through a nuclear conflict.
The crisis was resolved, but the Cuban Missile Crisis is regarded as the most intense moment of the Cold War.
On June 10, 1963, during his commencement address at American University, President John F. Kennedy famously affirmed: “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
President Kennedy was correct to remind all of us that we are all mortal and this is exactly what the ashes on our foreheads remind us today.
We are all mortal
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
These moving words are taken from the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis. “With the sweat of your brow shall you eat your bread, until you return to the soil, as you were taken from it. For dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3: 19).
Each time I place the ashes on someone’s forward, I am also reminded of these words of Jesus: “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matthew 16: 26).
The ashes that we receive today, on Ash Wednesday, should cause us to really think about our lives. What am I doing? Am I right with God?
We are mortal. Death, judgment, eternity awaits us all.
Prayer, Penance and Charity
The ashes that we receive today mark the beginning of a holy time of the year. Lent is a time of prayer, penance and charity.
In his homily for Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis said: “Prayer is the strength of the Christian and of every believing person. In the weakness and fragility of our life, we can turn to God with the confidence of children and enter into communion with him. In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and that could harden the heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of God’s boundless love, to enjoy its tenderness.
Lent is a time of prayer, a more intense, more diligent prayer, more able to take care of the needs of the brethren, to intercede before God for the many situations of poverty and suffering.”
What are examples of prayer that we can do during this time of Lent?
Many people go to Mass every day during Lent. We can spend time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament every day or whenever possible. Praying the Rosary is very good as well. Finally, every Friday during Lent we have the opportunity to participate in the Stations of the Cross. This prayer is a beautiful meditation on the Passion of Our Lord and it is a great way to stay focused during this Lenten season.
Penance is a very important aspect of our spiritual life. Acts of penance are special things to do in order to make up for our sins and to make up for the sins of others. There are very practical things that we can do as forms of penance. We can give up certain foods and drinks that we enjoy. We can give up watching movies for Lent. We can give up the use of the Internet during Lent. Some people give up smoking. Another good penance is to keep our bedroom perfectly clean. Maybe another good penance would be to make a special effort to keep our yard nice and clean. Maybe we need to mow the grass, trim the bushes or remove the junk that is scattered around the yard.
Alms giving is charity. Historically, alms giving was understood as providing material help to the poor such as money, clothing and food. This of course is very important. Our charity can go beyond providing material help to others. In fact, as Christians, charity is our way of life.
We can also do acts of charity within the practical circumstances of our daily lives. For example, during Lent, we can do the dishes every evening after supper. We can buy lunch once a week for a co-worker. If you are a student, you can help a fellow student with his or her homework when they are having problems with their studies.
Ultimately, Lent is all about change. We all need change. Conversion is an ongoing journey. We turn away from sin and we turn towards God.
The best way to bring about an initial conversion and an ongoing conversion is to make good use of the Sacrament of Confession. I will never tire of inviting all of you to make good use of this great gift that God has given us.
Many, not all, forms of depression, of mental illness and even physical illness are caused by people holding on to caked on sin and unresolved guilt, compounded by receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin.
Saint Paul addressed this serious dilemma to the Corinthians when he told them: “In fact that is why many of you are weak and ill and some of you have died” (1 Corinthians 11: 30).
The famous Archbishop Fulton Sheehan, many years ago, wrote a whole book on the topic of the importance of sacramental confession. The book is called Peace of Soul, and it will make great spiritual reading for Lent.
“Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 5: 6: 2).
With these stirring words, today’s second reading urges us to act now, to change, to let go of whatever is holding us back from the joy of the Gospel.