Ampleforth Abbey

24 March 2018

Ash Wednesday Homily

by Fr Gabriel Everitt OSB

We do not necessarily take very well to change. But Lent is about change: ‘Repent and believe in the gospel’ is one of the permitted phrases for the imposition of ashes on this day. Repent! Turn away from sin!

However nonetheless, change is disconcerting to say the least and many of us prefer the comfort of that to which we have become familiar. Yet the Lord tells us repeatedly in the gospels that he comes ‘like a thief in the night’ and at the moment we least expect. Like it or not, and most often it is not, we must be ready for the changes he brings us and in this holy season of growth and flowering, we must be ready for change and turn away from our sins.

But how does this being snatched away by Christ the thief, this ready openness to change, fit with our vow of stability. Turning, being snatched by a thief, seems to suggest instability, a preparedness to be knocked off balance, pulled out of our comfort zones, which may have become our familiar and deadening ruts.

Monastic stability is not a comfort zone; it is not a familiar and deadening rut. Yes, God’s grace is such that our stability is often associated with a particular place we have grown to love and a particular group of people with whom we have thrown in our lot. These can truly be signs and sacramentals of our stability, for which we give thanks and for which we pray. But of course ultimately our stability is in God, who comes to us as Christ the thief, who had nowhere to lay his head, snatching us from our comforts and asking us rather to find our true place, our true home more deeply in him.

Today’s gospel sets before us the Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving – kindness to others - and prayer. These are tried and tested ways of opening ourselves to the change we need, the change God asks of us – to grow in self control, kindness to others and deep and heartfelt prayer. There will always be more to do and a humbling need to start again.

When the gospel tells us about these three ways that they must be secret, it tells us that they can never be a way of outward show, of pride boosting display, because that is a way to seize a premature reward, which will turn to dust. These ways must lead us to God, and God will only ever be in the secret place, in the depths of our own hearts. There we will find Christ in his risen life, the joy of holy Easter, we will find the one who changes us from the very depths of our being to be like himself, so that we may love him and be one with him as he is.