Patrons to the Church of Divine Mercy, Penang (CDM) to any of the three Masses on Ash Wednesday received a sprinkling of ashes on the crown of their heads and were given the host in the hand at Communion. This was in line with the Diocesan efforts to create greater awareness to contain the spread of the Covid 19 virus.
At his homily, Fr Martin Arlando, parish priest of CDM began with a story of a six year boy called Joel who had appeared eager to do a house chore of bringing in the trash can from outside the house without prompting. When the father of the boy was about to commend the deed, Joel promptly asked if they could go swimming as it was a really hot day. So the father felt as if he was being set up and that Joel was indirectly seeking a reward for his deed. Fr Martin asked if we often do the same with God when we do things seeking for some reward from Him later on.
On Ash Wednesday we are all reminded that the significance of ash is that everything we are and possess will eventually revert to nothingness. We are at the mercy of God who has the power to bring about restoration and rejuvenation. In the parable of the prodigal son, Fr Martin explained that God is ever willing to welcome us back if we repent to receive again a place in His kingdom. God’s call has been in announced in the first reading of Isaiah (44:22) to return to Him with your whole heart with repentance and fasting. To return means to come back from somewhere to another place. When we sin, we stay away from God and this has consequences. We get lost and lose God’s protective love and mercy. This is not helpful as God has declared that we can do nothing without Him. God’s call is for everyone to return to Him. From all the vanities of our human activities of sin and come back with sorrow and repentance. In obtaining the sprinkling of ashes on our heads we are reminded to “Remember, repent and believe in the Gospel”. We are to remember that life is short and we will eventually return to dust. This message to repent has been echoed repeatedly by John the Baptist and Jesus. Even St Paul reminded us that we can only be saved if we believe in God (1 Corinthians 15:2).
Moving forward to this time of Lent, we are challenged by Almsgiving, Fasting and Abstinence. In Almsgiving, there is an invitation to excel in charity and to give to those in need. To become the extension of the hand of God without showing any fanfare or wanting any recognition or praise in performing the deed. In addition, we need to pray as this cultivates a relationship with God. To pray not only for our needs but for others. As St Paul has always advocated to “Pray without unceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). The second and third tenets of Lent is to Fast and Abstain. Fasting mortifies the body and elevates the spirit. We are asked not to gratify the flesh and pay more attention to the soul. To deny those things that are unhelpful to one’s soul.
Fr ended the story of a person named Bob who was only missed in Church after he had died. They had discovered the many small things he did around to upkeep the smooth running to the place. This is because he did those things without any demand of recognition or compensation. We are all asked to emulate the example of Jesus and radiate His love and mercy to one another.
Towards the end of the celebration, the class of students who were to be confirmed this year provided a skit to launch the Lenten Campaign. They enacted a situation where a person who had lost his confidence and self-worth was encouraged by another to lean on God’s mercy and compassion. In picking himself up he was also able to encourage another to turn to God for his love. In doing so, everyone was reminded of the theme of this year’s Lenten campaign “Sent to Heal”.
Dr Ivan Filmer
28th February, 2020.