Ash Wednesday (2012)
Dear brothers and sisters,
How many times each day do we make the sign of the Cross? We make it as we enter a church and sign ourselves with holy water. We make it at the beginning and the conclusion of the holy Mass and at other liturgies. We make it when we pray privately and before we before and after we eat. Why?
We do so because, as Saint Peter Damian teaches us, “it seems clear that the power of this sign will abolish all demonic claims upon human beings and the various items we need to use.”
On the day of our Baptism, on the day we were incorporated into Christ Jesus and given a share in his life, the priest or deacon traced the Cross of our salvation on our foreheads and said, “I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his Cross.” The sign of the Cross is a visible and physical reminder to us of the words of the Apostle: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price” (I Corinthians 6:19-20).
The price of our redemption is the blood of Christ shed out of love for us upon the wood of the Cross. Today, as we prepare to enter with fervent devotion into the holy and penitential season of Lent, this Cross is traced with ashes on our foreheads to remind us that we are indeed not our own. The cross of ashes serves also to remind us of our own mortality, to remind us of our sins, and to express externally our internal sorrow.
Consequently, the ashes also remind us of the mercy of God who is gracious and merciful, “slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” and who calls out to us, “return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning” (Joel 2:13, 12).
In these coming forty days we will seek to enter more fully into the Cross of our Lord, to take it up each day and to follow him who died for us. This is a daunting and difficult task, to lay down our own will, to conform our lives to his and to reflect his love in everything we say and do. As we contemplate the Cross, let us not shy away from it but seek to embrace it, because it “terrifies the devil, putting him to flight, that it may then invite the angels to approach us.” Let us take up this great insignia and strive to faithfully follow the one who bore it first for us. Amen.