Bishop Bonnar’s Ash Wednesday Homily

Most Rev. David Bonnar, Bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio

The following is the homily offered by the Most Reverend David Bonnar, Bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, on Ash Wednesday 2022.

     Today with the Church throughout the whole world we begin the holy season of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, and charitable works.

I think many of us probably have images of what these days mean going back to our childhood. Some of these images include journeying into the desert, picking up one’s cross, and offering a sacrifice of one kind or another by giving something up.

     One of the images of this season that the religious Sisters instilled into me was that of springtime. Lent is the springtime of one’s soul. Given the winter that we have been enduring with all the snow and ice and sunless days, I think we all are excited to welcome spring, even the springtime of one’s soul.

     With every spring there is something new. This is a new moment for our spiritual life. Spring also engenders many opportunities. The Lenten spring is no different. In fact, the readings today highlight three specific opportunities of these days. 

     The first opportunity is to come back to God with every fiber of our being. In the first reading, the prophet Joel says, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Lent is a time to give our whole hearts to God so that he can clean them, heal them, soften them, and strengthen them. God does not want part of us. He wants all of us. It is very tempting to give our attention to something or someone else at the expense of God.

     The second opportunity is to seek reconciliation in our lives with God and those with whom we are alienated. In today’s second reading from the second letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians Saint Paul says, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

In our humanness we can lose our way with God. We can so easily allow sin to win out over grace.  Lent is a time to set things right with God and others. One of the best ways we do this is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Lent is incomplete without it.

It is tempting for us to miss this part of the Lenten experience because our society has downplayed and rationalized sin. We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.

     The third opportunity in these 40 days of Lent is to become more genuine in our prayer. In the gospel, Jesus warns the disciples to not become hypocrites. In other words, he does not want them to reduce their prayer to acting or being fake and just going through motions. We need to aim to be more real and honest in our prayer.

The more genuine we are, the deeper our relationship can become with God. It is tempting for us to be superficial or inauthentic in our prayer. Remember, God does not want just part of us, he wants our whole self. No one knows us like he knows us. 

     In each of these opportunities we are seeking to become more intentional in our relationship with God which leads to what can be a new image of Lent for us, namely, that in this conscious intentionality, we fall more in love with Jesus who even in sinfulness, never tires of loving us. 

     May the Eucharist we receive today empower us to not grow tired in this Lenten journey. May the Eucharist help us to see our sufferings not as obstacles but opportunities to return to the Lord with our whole heart, to be reconciled to him and to be more genuine. 

Happy Lent! May this time truly be a springtime for your soul and a new beginning in your spiritual life.