February 9, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Ash Wednesday
Reading I (Joel 2:12-18) Reading II (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2)
Gospel (St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
Today, as we begin this holy season of Lent, we want to take careful stock of our own selves, our own sinfulness, our own weaknesses, the areas where we are away from the Lord. In the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Joel, we are told that we are to proclaim a fast and gather the assembly and call out to the Lord. Saint Paul, in the second reading, says that it is as if God were appealing through him to be reconciled with the Lord. And Our Lord, in the Gospel reading, tells us that we have to fast and we have to pray. So as we begin this holy season, what we really need to look at is our spiritual lives. We need to ask ourselves about our own relationship with the Lord and the areas where that needs to be developed, what needs to get out of the way, and what needs to be added.
If I might make a recommendation, along with whatever you have chosen to give up, may I recommend that you also add some time of prayer. Every single day, set aside time for prayer. Not a prayer as you are running out the door in the morning, not the “Morning Offering” that might be taped to the mirror in the bathroom, I am talking about sitting down and praying with the Lord, trying to go into your heart and uniting yourself there with Jesus Christ. If it is possible to be able to get to a church, especially an adoration chapel, that would be wonderful. If you cannot, set aside a place in your home that is specifically there for prayer. Set up a place where you might have a crucifix or some holy pictures, and have that place set aside as your place of prayer so that is the only thing you do in that specific place.
And have a time set aside everyday for when you are going to pray; otherwise, knowing our human nature well enough, what we are going to do is to say, “I’ll get to it in a little while,” and a “little while” never comes because in a little while you will say, “I’ll pray in a little while.” And when that little while comes, you will say it again. Pretty soon, you are going to be in bed, saying, “Well, I’ll try again tomorrow.” Pretty soon, it is going to be Easter and you will not have even begun. What we need to do is make sure that we are setting this as an appointment with the Lord. If we had an appointment with a doctor, we would get there. We would cancel everything else and we would be there unless some kind of emergency arose. This is far greater than any doctor because this is the Doctor of your soul; this is the One Who wants to heal what is truly wrong in the very depths of our being and we need to make sure that we are in union with Him.
This is the single most important thing in our lives, and tragically there are so many who do not do it, so very few Catholics who really take time to pray. This is the time now to make that resolution, not merely for the forty days, but using this time to lay the foundation for the rest of your life. For now, begin by just simply setting aside the time. Look at your day and figure out what time works well. When is it normally fairly quiet? Then carve out a chunk of time – a half-hour, an hour, whatever it might be – and spend that time with the Lord.
You can take on whatever other penances you may have chosen, but what is most important is prayer. It is not enough to merely empty out the things that stand in the way; we need to fill those areas up. We need to fill them up with Christ. So as we look at ourselves and we look at the possibilities – we can fast, we need to get to Confession – we need to seek that reconciliation, but we need to pray. That is my recommendation. Whatever else we have chosen to do, all of the good things that we might be seeking to offer to Our Lord, the one thing that will be most pleasing to Our Lord is if we get rid of sin and seek union with Jesus Christ in the depths of our heart through prayer.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.