“In our readings today, we hear the voice of a father full of tenderness, full of emotion, saying to his child, ‘Come back to me with all your heart.’” With these words, Cardinal Arthur Roche opens the Lenten season on “Preach: The Catholic Homilies Podcast.”
When asked by host Ricardo da Silva, S.J., why he chose the message of “Welcome Home” and not to preach “in a heavier way,” to emphasize the penitential nature of the season, the cardinal replies: “Well, because I think, really, that’s what Lent is all about.
“Perhaps in the past, people have thought of it as being a pretty heavy season; we have to give up things, and we have to do things and…. But it’s really having to look at things more carefully and particularly; look at me personally and see where I’m going: ‘What am I doing?’; ‘Am I becoming more of a Christian on my journey through life?’.”
Cardinal Roche is the most senior Vatican official to be featured on the podcast. He serves as the prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments—the Vatican department responsible for governing all aspects of the church’s liturgy and her sacraments. He is also a former chairman of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), overseeing the translation work of liturgical texts from Latin into English. His appearance on “Preach”
“The greatest preparation for any homily is the preacher preparing through extensive prayer; looking at these texts, making them his own,” the cardinal emphasizes. This wisdom stems not only from the vantage point of his present role but also from his years as a parish priest and bishop in his native England. “Preaching really is a way of life. It’s a way of spirituality for a priest in a parish, and it should be one of the solid elements of his spiritual diet.”
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On the show, the cardinal highlights several resources he deems crucial for preachers serious about perfecting the art of the homily. These resources include key reflections by Pope Francis on the liturgy found in “Evangelii Gaudium,” and “Desiderio Desideravi.” Additionally, he introduces two lesser-known resources: the Homiletic Directory—issued in 2015 by the department the cardinal currently leads and of which he was then the secretary—and the Liturgy and Life Study Bible (Liturgical Press 2023).
The cardinal also provides insights into Pope Francis’ vision for a more synodal church and its impact on liturgical celebrations and preaching; underscoring the preacher’s need to meticulously prepare and craft homilies.
In closing, Ricardo asks the cardinal, “What is the one thing that you’d like to say to every preacher in the world if you could get to them?”
“I would say, really, take preaching—take your homily very, very seriously,” the cardinal stresses. “And don’t be the person who looks on Saturday night to see what he has to say on Sunday morning.”
Take your homily very, very seriously. Don’t be the person who looks on Saturday night to see what he has to say on Sunday morning.
Scripture Readings for Ash Wednesday
First Reading: Jl 2:12-18
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14, 17
Second Reading: 2 Cor 5:20—6:2
Gospel: Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
You can find the full text of the readings here.
Homily for Ash Wednesday by Cardinal Arthur Roche
In our readings today, we hear the voice of a father full of tenderness, full of emotion, saying to his child, “Come back to me with all your heart.” We can imagine the scene from the memories of our childhood, from the memories of our homes, the places where we were safe, where we were loved, where we were pampered. It is a voice that resonates in our hearts: come, come back home, where you belong, come back to me. Here, you are my child, here in my arms you are safe, there is nothing to worry about.
This is the characteristic invitation and leitmotif of the entire Season of Lent. Return home, to the place you belong, do not be afraid. Return to me from your heart, without fear, without anguish. Here you will be safe.
The voice of the Father calling us, also proposes a simple question during Lent. Where do I belong? Which way am I turned, in what direction am I facing? On what road am I walking? What is it that I am choosing in life? Is it a road that leads to greater peace in my heart or one that leads to more dissatisfaction? Does it free me from what I find burdensome, from what is dark, from what is shameful?
This is the characteristic invitation and leitmotif of the entire Season of Lent: Return home, to the place you belong, do not be afraid.
These are important questions, no? They help us address what is really important in life: the direction in which I have chosen to walk. The values by which I want to live. Of course, I may have chosen a good road on which to travel in life, but I can also often be distracted along this road and lose my way. My attitude toward God, my way of relating to others may develop other paths on which I begin to walk; detours that complicate my journey and sometimes derail me completely, instead of leading me back to the safety of my Father’s embrace. I may be slow to walk, hesitant to make the turn that brings me back to the right path. I may not even trust the call that beckons, “Come back home.” I may even be afraid to return home, wondering if my place is really there.
In truth, what are the lights that guide me along my life’s path which make me a better person?
Jesus points us to three guiding lights on his path of life in today’s gospel. Lights that help us navigate away from the traps of selfishness toward the path of a greater freedom. The first is prayer, which purifies our souls and helps us know the depth of God’s love for us, it helps us to know where we belong. Then there is fasting, self-denial, which of course no one wants to do, but which is not only good for our bodies but also prevents us from being greedy in our habits and in our attitudes. Fasting helps us to start thinking differently, weighing up the true value of things. Then the third light is almsgiving, which is always good for others and helps us not to forget that there is always someone who needs more than me, there is always someone we can help in their life journey. It helps us realize, too, that what we receive in our lives through good fortune is not just for ourselves; when we give of what we have, we begin to really touch the flesh of Christ in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the marginalized, the imprisoned, the sick, the unemployed, the persecuted, those seeking refuge, those seeking warmth, the closeness of someone who cares, the acceptance by another, even a simple welcoming smile.
Lent calls us home, where each of us belongs, no one is excluded—the saint and the sinner, the great and the small, the wavering and the secure.
Lent is the time to ask in what direction I am facing. Where am I going? Toward God or toward myself, toward where I belong or toward a foreign or alien place? We all need to look carefully at the path we have chosen to take.
And why is it important to answer these questions in Lent? Because, at Easter, when we hear the Father’s tender voice in the voice of his own Son, Jesus, in the liturgy of the Church, we need to be able to answer by sincerely saying ‘yes’ to those questions: do you really believe in God? Do you really believe in God’s love – even for you? Do you believe that you are called to bring this love to others? Do you believe that his resurrection overcomes every difficulty, even death? Do you really believe that the true path of life is the one that leads to a life beyond this world?
With great tenderness the Father’s voice in Lent calls us home, where each of us belongs, no one is excluded—the saint and the sinner, the great and the small, the wavering and the secure. None of us is worthy, but that is where we belong. We respond to our Father’s call by turning toward His love– the home where we belong—the place where we flourish.
Dear friends, we are called to make this journey together: we are being invited in these days to expand to the size of Christ instead of shrinking to the size of self. Let us make the journey towards life and liberty, supporting one another, praying for one another and, at Easter, celebrating together the joy of a renewed life, a new life in Christ.