In his homily at the Mass on Ash Wednesday, Fr Martin Arlando, the parish priest of Church of Divine Mercy (CDM), Penang, reminded the congregation that this was the beginning of 40 days for self reflection. He said that we should commit ourselves to allowing the Holy Spirit to convince us that we are more like King David than our pride and arrogance will allow us to admit. He added that we now begin this journey of going into the low light of evening to the blackness of Good Friday with the knowledge that light is just down the road, which is on Easter morning. He continued by saying that Lent is a period of time on how we live and that the little sins we have do make big deal in our lives, as the little sins eventually add up. To illustrate, Fr Martin related a story of the little birds that go scooping down in Niagara Falls for a drink. In doing so repeatedly, due to the cold weather, the ice that begins to build up on their wings eventually brought about their doom and they fell and drown in the waters of the Falls. Since God demands perfection and we are sinners, we cannot achieve this perfection and so our sins do mount up. These sins can be ordinary things of self pride, prejudice and even what we believe is right or wrong. These sins weight us down. So Lent is a time for us to focus on these little things that weight us down and do something about it. A time to free our souls from this burden and really change. Psalm 51 of King David’s confession is a reminder of what he had done and not follow his dark and sinful path. He asked for God to create for him a clean heart and renew a right spirit within him. Fr Martin reminded the congregation that the ashes we receive on this day is a sign of admission that we are not perfect and we want to change and rid ourselves of our bad habits and attitudes. He went on to relate another story and asked if the congregation could see themselves in anyone of the of six people in the story. The six people were around a dying campfire where each had a stick in which they could all use to keep the fire going. The lone woman does not give because there is a strange person within the circle. The poor man does not give because there is a rich person in that circle. The rich man does not give because he believes his contribution would help someone who is lazy and useless. Another doesn’t give because one in the circle didn’t belong to his church. Yet another had had a hard time in school and this was his way to get even. And there was one who believed that he should give only to those who also gave. The story ends with lesson that they didn’t die that night from the cold of the night, the cold from with out but from the cold within each heart. Fr asked if we could see ourselves in anyone of the six. Each found a way not to give and gave excuses and remain in sin, keeping Jesus out in the cold.
Fr emphasized that today we are called to be ambassadors for God. According to St Paul, we are called to be bridge builders for Christ. It is through us that people learn about the one we call Lord or Christ. An ambassador is a person living in a different land and is set apart. Even if we do our small bit, we can make a difference. To illustrate this Fr explained how a suspension bridge was eventually built over the mighty Niagara Falls. First, a thread tied to a kite was flown over from one side to the other. The thread was tied to a string, then a rope then a cable. Similarly, God chose a sinless Christ and poured out His goodness towards us. Fr explained that the one thing that distinguishes our God’s grace from the other religions of the world is that the blood flows from the devotees to their god to appease them. But in Christianity, the blood flows from our God to the sinner. This is reflected in the crucifix. We are ambassadors of Christ. He asked those present to imagine that life is a flowing stream and that we are the stepping stones over the stream for others to cross. These stepping stones are our witnessing and testimonies. In the course of time, the prophets have been these stepping stones. It is now our turn to be those stepping stones of faith to help others cross over to life everlasting. To be bridge builders during this time of Lent through our examples of fasting, prayer, repentance and by the way of the cross in our way of thinking and acting. He challenged us by asking if we were willing to live our lives according to the way of the cross and have a loving relationship with our Lord as a reflection for others to see? What shall our answer be?
Ashes were administered on the foreheads of those in attendance with the reminder of turning away from sin and returning to the gospel as our mortality is of limited standing.
Dr. Ivan Filmer
16th February, 2018