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Monday, January 7, 2008


Lexegete™ | Year A | Matthew


February 6, 2008

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 51:1-17 (1)
2 Corinthians 5:20b 6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

1. Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (ESV)

Giving to the Needy
6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
The Lord's Prayer
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust [5] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


[1] 6:9 Or Let your name be kept holy, or Let your name be treated with reverence 
[2] 6:10 Or Let your kingdom come, let your will be done 
[3] 6:11 Or our bread for tomorrow 
[4] 6:13 Or the evil one; some manuscripts add For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen 
[5] 6:19 Or worm; also verse 20

2. Reflection for Ash Wednesday -- D. Bühler

In my decades as a hospital and hospice chaplain at MGH, YNHH, and the Southcoast Hospitals Group, Lent will always stand out as the most meaningful time of the year, perhaps because the season was so attuned to the afflictions of patients and families I met in the waiting room or Emergency Room or (sometimes even) in the Chapel. Ash Wednesday was by far the best attended happening in or medico-liturgical year, for in the predominantly Catholic region of New England there were always Countless Catholics and Countless Protestants (especially Anglicans and Lutherans) who wanted to receive ashes while in the hospital.

For this reason I came to gradually find joy in the event as we chaplains (all faiths at our hospitals) worked to make patients and staff responsible for making this day more than just an “Ash-terthought” (as one of our chaplains liked to joke). We were very careful about BOTH WHEN & WHERE Ashes would be implanted and we always involved both Catholic and Protestant clergy. Finally, we usually included the serene hymn “Come back to me with all your heart” (HOSEA, by Gregory Norbet):

Come back to me with all your heart,
don't let fear keep us apart.
Trees do bend, tho' straight and tall;
so must we to others' call.

Long have I waited for your coming
home to me and living deeply our new life.

The wilderness will lead you
to your heart where I will speak.
Integrity and justice
with tenderness you shall know.

Long have I waited for your coming
home to me and living deeply our new life.

You shall sleep secure with peace;
faithfulness will be your joy.

Long have I waited for your coming
home to me and living deeply our new life.

[ SEE: ]

We also took turns giving a VERY brief reflection as these “Prayer Services” (never a Mass), and this gave us yet another way to wengage in Gospel stududy of the Bible.

Yet the Meditation for Ash Wednesday which stands out most boldly for me, now teaching in a Dominican College (Providence) is one by Fergus Kerr, O.P., Author of After Aquinas (2002).

Fr. Kerr was a visiting Professor of Theology of Providence a few years back and edits the journal New Black Friars.

Kerr’s Homily follows:

The Sign of Ashes by Fergus Kerr O.P.

5 March 2003
Ash Wednesday

Fr. Fergus Kerr preaches on the meaning of the ashes placed on our foreheads at the beginning of Lent each year.
Ashes are always significant. The remains of a camp fire in the woods; of a picnic; or of a bonfire. Signs of companionship; a family outing; a festive occasion. The remains of a bush fire, destroying many miles of forest, burning many animals to death, devastating many people's lives. Something even much more terrible: Lower Manhattan after 9/11. Even more terrible still: Auschwitz, Treblinka.

Ashes may be signs of happiness and laughter; ashes may be signs of terror and unspeakable sorrow. More personally, there are the ashes in the urn after cremation, to be scattered or interred in the family grave, the remains of someone dearly loved.
In 1930, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, a soldier in the First World War, confided this strangely prescient remark to his journal:

Out of the previous culture there will be heap of rubble and

finally a heap of ashes; yet, over the ashes, spirits will hover.

Wittgenstein had doubts about the way European civilization was going, but he could not have foreseen what was to happen. By 1938 he had to become a British subject so that he could visit Vienna without fear of being arrested as a Jew.
Ash Wednesday, Dies Cinerum, 'The Day of Ashes', dates at least from the eighth century. It's the day on which the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross. It's the beginning of Lent, the forty days of fasting and abstinence, the traditional preparation for the annual celebration of Easter in the Catholic Church.
Receiving ashes on the head as a sign of sorrow for sin was a practice in England at least by the tenth century. The Anglo-Saxon homilist Aelfric recommends it, warning us with the terrible example of a man who refused to go to church for the ashes on Ash Wednesday and who a few days later was accidentally killed in a boar hunt. It is mentioned as a universal custom in the West for both clerics and faithful in the Synod of Beneventum in 1091.
In the New Testament, and often in the Hebrew Bible, we hear of people who repent of their sins putting on sackcloth and sprinkling their heads with ashes. The symbolism is much deeper and more complex than we could define. Much deeper than merely symbolizing our need for repentance from our sins. Like all such ancient primitive ceremonies.
Originally, no doubt, this use of ashes to signify penance was a matter of private devotion; then part of the official rite for reconciling public sinners; then soon extended to all the faithful, in acknowledgement that we are all sinners. The ashes that we put on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are the residue of the palms with which we celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.

The symbol of repentance rises out of the symbol with which the advent of the Saviour is acclaimed, the beginning of our re-enactment of the mystery of our passing with Christ from death to resurrection, our liberation from the grip of our old ways into the freedom of new life in Christ's Holy Spirit.

Year after year, as we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we remember that it is out of dust that we have come and that it is to dust that we shall return. It is in the sweat of our face that we eat bread, till we return to the ground out of which we were taken (Genesis 3: 10). And yet, for all our mortality, for all our inclination to sin, for all the sorrow with which we are afflicted, the ashes are always there, the symbol of repentance, humility and conversion.

However terrible things are, and in our time things have been very terrible and are likely only to become worse, there is the unquenchable hope, in the rubble, in the ashes, of the continuing presence of the Spirit, of the hovering of the souls of those who have gone before us, of the blessed interceding for us, waiting to receive us into their company in communion with the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


fr. Fergus Kerr is a member of the Dominican community in Edinburgh, where he teaches theology. He is the editor of New Blackfriars, the theological and philosophical review of the English Dominicans.

© The English Province of the Order of Preachers. All rights reserved.
The Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, © 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those who wish to reproduce some of the material on this web site should contact the editor at in the first instance.

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