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KOTA KINABALU – Thousands across the archdiocese received ashes on their foreheads, marked as a black cross, on Ash Wednesday, which this year fell on 10 Feb 2016. The Church begins the journey together, at the start of the Lenten season, which lasts 40 plus days, a journey that focuses on spiritual purification and repentance with its observances of reflection, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving. Lent prepares us for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Right at the onset of the journey, Archbishop John Wong in his homily at Mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral here proposed to the faithful to enter the Lenten journey as one taking on a yearly retreat. This journey is to be done by an attentive listening to the Word of God to guide us on a daily basis. The prelate suggested to look into three important areas of our life which need God’s help: a) to look into our faith in order to renew it and to grow into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ; b) to reconcile with God, with others and with self; and c) to celebrate the new life that God wants to give through His Son Jesus Christ.
Distribution of ashes took place at the end of Mass. Throngs of people from all walks of life lined up to have their foreheads marked with ashes which are meant to remind us about our human mortality, while also showing the individual’s desire for repentance and mourning of their own sins. As the priest or minister puts the ash on the foreheads, as is the normal practice here, he says “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19) or “Repent, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Pope Francis in his Lenten message asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17). By calling for an attentive listening to the Word of God and encouraging the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord”, I sought to stress the primacy of prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word. The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand.”
“For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness.”
“Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion!” said the pontiff.
Meanwhile, celebrating Mass at St Peter’s Basilica on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis called upon the faithful to heed two exhortations in the Scripture readings for the day: “be reconciled to God” and “return to [God] with all your heart” through prayer, charity, and fasting.
During the Mass, Pope Francis commissioned hundreds of priests to be Missionaries of Mercy during the jubilee year; these priests have the faculties to absolve sins normally reserved to the Holy See. – CS/CWN