HAPPY ASH WEDNESDAY! – Here’s my homily for Ash Wednesday. I pray that you have a renewing Lent!

So – today – we’ve been hearing about it for a while now, lots of information, anticipation, for this very important day. Of course I mean the first day of Spring Training for the Yankees! With 27 world championships, the quest for #28 starts today! As pitchers and catchers arrive in Florida to begin weeks of training (I think the other teams are starting soon too – ha ha)

It’s funny, the first game of the regular season isn’t till April, but here we are in February and they are going to be doing drills, running, getting back into shape, practicing, playing. If you’re not a fan of the game, it probably seems a bit like overkill. But the reality of it is that in order for the players to be able to go out and play 162 games day after day – with the hopes of making it into the playoffs and world series (which can be another 17 games), that’s not something you can just grab a bat, a glove and go out to the ball park and do.

No with the World Series Trophy and ring in their minds as the symbols of what they wish to attain the Yankees go to Florida with dreams of another championship. The players will enter into this time of discipline and preparation – not to mention humility learning from the previous season’s failures and mishaps to build them into, what they hope will be a championship winning team once again.

Ironic that this should coincide with the Church’s first day of Spring Training. The original definition of the word LENT was simply Spring. And during these weeks, these 40 days before Easter, we focus on a symbol to focus on too – the ashen, dusty cross on our foreheads. Through our receiving those ashen crosses, we make a decision to enter into this Spring Training with the hopes that Jesus’ Christ’s victory on the Cross will be ours as well. That freed from sin, united with Him – life eternal (which is what we will celebrate on Easter Sunday) will be ours.

But we need to get back into shape. No matter where we are in our faith lives, each of us receives this invitation to train. And as that symbol of the cross is put on our foreheads we are given our charge – to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” It is only in our turning away from the things that keep diminishing us, causing havoc in our relationships with God and one another and turning to the Lord, letting him strengthen us with his presence and action… We are given “drills” to help us do that – Prayer, Fasting, and almsgiving. For prayer, maybe that means I’m going to make it to Mass every Sunday – maybe I’m going to carve out some prayer time during my daily routine – maybe it’s been a long time since I went to confession and I want to be reconciled with God and the community. Fasting maybe it will be the traditional ideas of giving something up for Lent – or maybe fasting from the computer, texting, TV or the internet. In terms of Almsgiving – it doesn’t have to be simply giving money to those less fortunate – maybe I can give my time to my family or a friend or someone who could use my help. These are just a few ideas to help us get back into spiritual shape.

Most MLB players go into Spring Training with their eye on a World Series ring and the sound of the saying: “No pain, no gain.” That holds true for our own spiritual program too. May you and I enter this Lent with our eyes and hearts fixed on the crown of victory that we hope to attain in heaven.