Sandakan : More than 2,000 faithful thronged St Mary's Cathedral Sandakan in conjunction with Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, celebrated yesterday, 5th March 2014. The main Cathedral, both the left and right extended wings and the choir loft were fully occupied with many more standing throughout the mass at the frontage. They came in full faith to celebrate Ash Wednesday, remembering Him through sacrifice.
The tri-lingual mass in English, Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia was presided over by Bishop Julius Dusin Gitom. The first reading from Prophet Joel and the second reading from 2 Corinthians were proclaimed in Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese respectively.
In his introductory note, Bishop Julius said that Ash Wednesday is an invitation for us to reflect on who we are in God’s eye and in God’s heart. The imposition of ashes on our foreheads reminds us of our being human, of being creatures and also of our being nothingness. Our liturgical rites say that we are only dust and we will return to dust. But it also reminds us of our compassionate God, a God of mercy and love, slow to anger and abounds with love.
Lent is also a time of grace, a time for uplifting spiritual activities especially to practice the three traditional pillars of lent namely prayer, fasting and almsgiving. By praying we are building a closer relationship with God for He desires that we are available at all times for Him, are open to experience His love, peace and mercy. It makes us realize our brokenness and leads us to repentance, for God is all merciful and all forgiving.
Whatever deeds we do; prayer, fasting and almsgiving – it must be done with genuine desire not merely to impress others. In acts of charity, it must be a genuine response to God’s love, beneficial not only to oneself but to others.
The prelate cited Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s lenten’s message for 2009, ‘Fasting is an aid to open our eyes to see the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. Millions of human beings lack the indispensable minimum and they die of hunger.' which he linked to the 1 John 3 : 17, 'But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?'
He then atoned that message to Pope Francis’ Lenten message for 2014, ‘We, Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it. …..In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ.’
He urged the faithful to embrace the custom of private and communal prayer, fasting and almsgiving. He appealed to all to contribute generously through the Lenten appeal envelope, the hallmark of the Catholic community for works of charity for the poor.
Before the recessional, he announced that the Federal Court has reserved judgement in the leave application by the publisher of the Herald to challenge the Home Ministry over the ban on the use of the word 'Allah.' He called on all faithful to continue to pray that the case be given a fair hearing.