Issue of March 10, 2019
Mt. Province

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Wednesday. Fast. Ashes. Peace

Irish Cognoden, my rectory girl smartly queried, “Father Marcs, why did we fast this morning?”

Driving down Barangay Kilong, Sagada after my mass at the Antadao National High School, I picked up three youths along the road. Their eyes were fixed on my forehead. They inquired, “Sir, is it Ash Wednesday?” Their t-shirt uniform indicated they are from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The energetic churchgoers of Nangonogan asked, “Why do we impose ash on our forehead on Ash Wednesday?”

The Aguid Basic Ecclesial Community inquired on the same day, “Why do we make use of ashes?”

Ash Wednesday is the start of the season of Lent. Counting from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week is 40 days. The Holy Scripture presents the significant 40 days and 40 nights of Jesus in the desert. He stayed in the desert to pray and fast. Jesus conceived and laid out for us the importance of spiritual retreat. He challenged his body with physical hunger dubbed as fasting in order to feed his soul. Filled with spirit, he read the deception of the devil and drove the devil away.

The ash has a two-fold symbolism. It points to the biblical truth, “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) Second, ashes are used for penitential purposes. The ashes can be poured on the head or it can be imposed on the forehead in the form of a cross. The ash in the form of a cross can be interpreted beautifully as, “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” Jesus died on the cross and he defeated death so that we will not return to dust anymore but to the Heavenly Father.

I celebrated Ash Wednesday mass at Antadao NHS with the Roman Catholic population as minority. Astonishingly, almost everybody came for the ashes. I am happy to know that the ashes were not identified with religion but with its nature and meaning. 

I had a long conversation with a project contractor around the Cordillera. The conversation was loaded with learnings. His line remained vivid: “The poor quality output of projects in the Cordillera is due to the “standard operating system” (SOP) where politicians are chiefly involved.” I say therefore, SOP means “substandard operating system.”

The situation of our government projects today is becoming poorer. The SOP before was 70-30, 70 for the direct cost and 30 for the indirect cost. But nowadays, 60 for indirect cost and 40 for direct cost. But I still need to validate this with other project contractors.

Direct cost includes labor, materials, and equipment, while indirect cost includes the contractor’s profit, overhead cost of materials, taxes and the “percentage of government officials” that is squeezing the allotted fund.

When an average man runs for public office and he wins, he is lucky. And when he sits in his office and suddenly becomes a millionaire, there is “public mystery” involved dubbed as graft and corruption. “SOP” will mean a lot in the “difficult to explain wealth” of politicians.

When a poor seminarian is ordained and suddenly lives a materialistic lifestyle and worse becomes all-knowing and do not listen to corrections and suggestions, that is a “clerical mystery” dubbed as “ecclesiastical luxury,” “ecclesiastical corruption” and “ecclesiastical pride.” When priests and our bishops live a materialistic lifestyle, we become unfaithful to our vows and we may easily compromise the mission of priesthood, the participation in the mission of Christ.

Both government and church leaders are encouraged to be immersed in the annual celebration of Lent. As leaders of the community, there is the great need to fast and abstain from unnecessary baggage that drag the mission behind and from the vices that blur our vision. As leaders in the community, there is a need to find more time in prayer.

It is a sad reality nowadays that some priests and our beloved bishops do not anymore pray our breviaries. We are engrossed with secular activities and stuff outside the priestly, prophetic, and kingly mission. I always believe that the efficacy of church leadership especially in bringing people to God depends on the profound spiritual experience and encounter of priests with God through prayers and in the administration of the sacraments.

It is unjust for spiritual leaders to condemn government’s malpractices and correct the government leaders for their irregularities when we, spiritual leaders, are blind to our own mistakes, lapses, vices, and pride.

Let the Lenten season be a season for government and church leaders to ponder on our spiritual values and our social and moral responsibilities.

The fasting, abstinence, prayer, and almsgiving are not only mere Lenten requirements but also spiritual disciplines to strengthen us in our battle against the cunnings, deceptions, and temptations of the devil.

The ashes must continually remind us that we are temporary. It must entice us to work more for spiritual gifts and those that does not fade. It must remind us of our faithful response to the invitation of God. The prophet Joel writes, “Even now says, the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts not your garments.”

The harmonious rapport of the church and government leaders by virtue of their work for the common good and their conformity with the Divine Will is the gauge of a peaceful community. Both teams of leaders are mandated to work for authentic peace. Peace is the highest mark of human development. Peace is the face of God in the community hence; it is the responsibility of everyone. Pope Paul VI says, “If you want peace then work for justice.”

Reach me at or at 0905-165-3669.

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