Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez

See the full text of Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez’s homily from the 12:05 p.m. Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia Wed., Feb. 14.




So, it was 1990, I was about seven months a priest, and it was a Friday of Lent. I think it was the first Friday of Lent, a couple of days after Ash Wednesday, and I went to get my haircut.

I don’t know about you, but I generally do not crave meat except on a Friday of Lent when you can’t have it.

And I sat in the chair and this girl was cutting my hair and to make it worse on the counter there were two slices of pizza loaded with pepperoni. And the smell wasn’t helping.

And so, she’s cutting my hair, and she says, “So, what do you do for a living?”

They [barbers and hairdressers] always ask you that, right?

And I said, “Well, I’m a priest.” Now, I wasn’t dressed like one, but I’m a priest.

And she says to me “Oh my God, Father! I can’t believe it. It’s a Friday in Lent and I’m eating all this pepperoni!”

And I said, “Well you know…” What am I supposed to say? Rip it off?

And so, I said, “So where do you go to Church?” And she says to me, “Oh Father, I haven’t been to Church in 30 years.”

And I said to her [jokingly], “And you’re worried about pepperoni? Really! That’s what you’re worried about? You might want to think about getting to church.”

Rend your hearts and not your garments. That first reading, right? This [example] is really about the heart and not eating pepperoni or the Tasty Cakes or whatever you choose to do or not choose to do.

They’re not an end in and of itself, right? God doesn’t need pepperoni. Trust me. He created it. Thank God! He doesn’t need it. Actually, it’s about the changing of our own hearts.

This is an interesting day in the Christian world. Hundreds of thousands of millions [of people] all over the planet are coming to do what we do — to get ashes.

It was the first thing on the news early this morning. They didn’t really mention Valentine’s Day initially. They mentioned Ash Wednesday and showed images of different churches on Ash Wednesday.

So, we have all come here again — ­once again. This is number 62 for me. We have come here today for Ash Wednesday.

I would like to leave you with just a couple of questions to reflect upon throughout the day.

What do the ashes mean to us today? Not last year or the year before — but today.

As you came here and you walked here, and you intentionally left where you were — home, work, wherever it was ­ — to come here to “get ashes” as we say, right? Get ashes. What do those ashes mean to you?

In fact, what are those ashes calling us to? What’s welling up deep within our heart at this moment in our journey? This year. This moment. This day.

What is God speaking to you in your heart?

When you hear those words from that first reading, it’s about your heart. It will mean something different to each one of us.

Because at the end, God’s desire is that we be whole. That our hearts be whole. In fact, he gave his life for that to happen.

So, what do these ashes mean to you? As you hear those words [from today’s reading], listen, it’s about your heart.

The pathway to enter this time of spiritual reflection, conversion, and renewal, is given to us in the Gospel — to be charitable, to be loving and caring, to be prayerful, and to fast. There is the pathway that the Lord himself gave us.

May Lent be for each one of us be an incredible time of grace and blessing — wherever we find ourselves, this year, or in this moment.