HOMILY TRANSCRIPT| Manila Archbishop Jose F. Cardinal Advincula, Ash Wednesday Mass, Manila Cathedral, Feb. 22, 2023, 12 p.m.

Rev. Msgr. Rolando dela Cruz, Rector of the cathedral, dear brother priests, deacons, dearly beloved in Christ:

Today, we enter into the beautiful season of Lent.  We thank God that he is once again preparing our hearts for the celebration of the Mystery of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And here we are again on our annual custom on the first day of Lent.  We stain our heads with ashen crosses.  For our reflection today, let us bring our attention to three themes: head, ashes, and cross.

First, our heads.  For the whole year, we have carefully looked after our heads, hair, and faces.  Alagang alaga natin ang mga buhok at kutis natin.  Kung anu-ano pa ang pinapahid at pinanghuhugas natin upang mapanatili natin silang malinis, makinis, malambot, at maganda.  Pero ngayong araw na ito, kusa nating dinudumihan ang mukha at buhok natin.  On this day, we voluntarily stain our heads and faces as a sign of our contrition and spiritual preparation for the great Easter celebrations.

To have ashes on our head is symbolic of having the ground above us.  And so, the ash on our heads must humble our heads and bring our feet to ground.  The ashes on head guard us against the delusions of self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, self-entitlement, and self-grandiosity.  Let us forsake hypocrisy, which Jesus rebukes in our Gospel today.  Let the ashes on our head remind us to pray with sincerity of heart, fast in genuine solidarity with the ones who are suffering, and give alms out of hearts that are truly contrite and compassion.  Ngayong Kuwaresma, tayo ay magkawanggawa, manalangin, at mag-ayuno nang walang pag-iimbot, panlilinlang, o pagpapakitang-tao.  Maglingkod tayo sa pagbubunsod ng pag-ibig, sa halip na paghahangad na matuwa ang iba sa atin o mabusog ang ego natin.

Secondly, the ashes.  We receive ashes to be reminded of our creaturehood.  We are creatures; we are not the Creator.  God created us out of dust (Gen 3:19).  We are limited, vulnerable, and mortal.  Pinapaalala ng mga abo sa atin na lahat tayo ay mamatay din, pagdating ng takdang panahon.  And before the length of history and the breadth of the univers, we are just tiny grains of dusts.

In the same manner, all things in the created world are like dust (cf. Eccl 1:2), changing and passing.  Lahat ng bagay sa mundo ay nagbabago at naglalaho.  The great mountains and seas, and the myriad flora and fauna, are ever in transit.  The wealth we own can increase and decrease, the power we hold can be gained and be lost.  Our bodies age and weaken over time; we can be wounded and hurt.  Our feelings come and go.  Here on earth, no triumph lasts forever; but also no trial lasts forever.

Oh, how foolish of us to cling to transitional temporalities of this world!  The things of this world are good, but they are like ash and dust: the more we grasp them, the more they slip off from our hold.  And they end up sulllying us.  Katulad ng alabok at abo, kapag lalo silang hinahawakan, lalo silang nabibitawan at nakarurumi lamang.  Hindi sila forever.

And thirdly, the cross.  While in this world, nothing lasts forever, only one thing is forever: the love of God.  The ashes we stain on our heads are shaped as crosses in order to remind us of the love of God.  Hugis krus ang bahid ng abo sa ating ulo bilang paalala ng pagmamahal ng Diyos.  Though we are formed from dust, we are precious because we are God’s beloved.  God lovingly gathered dust in his hands and breathed into us the breath of life (cf Gen 2:7).  Why would even deign to value mere dust like us, mere ashes who sin and die?  Bakit pa mamahalin ng Diyos ang abo na tulad natin, ang tao na suwail at makasalanang alabok?  Sapagkat ang Diyos ay pag-ibig (1 Jn 4:8)!  God is love!

Often, when we encounter trials in life, we fall into depression and despair.  But today, God is mercifuly encouraging us: the little that we are is utterly precious to God.  Creati sumus ex amore, ad amorem.  We are created out of love, we are created for love.  Nilikha tayo para mahalin, isinilang tayo upang maging mga anak ng Diyos.  We are precious dusts, destined for eternal life.  We are the earthen vessels into which God pours the hope of heavenly grace and glory.  We are the ashes who bear his hopes and dreams.  We are the treasures of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is the very heart of our Lenten observance.  This season is a blessed time for us to turn away from hypocrisy worldly attachments, and go home into the warm embrace of our loving God.  Amen. (Photo by Maricar Santos/RCAM-AOC | Photogallery)


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