Ash Wednesday: Forty Days’ Experience of God’s Merciful Love

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By Dcn. Charles Jaryekonga, SJ

Readings: Jl 2:12-18; Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17; 2 Cor 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

As human beings, we are very lucky because we are created in the image and likeness of God and endowed with God’s creative power (Gen. 1:27-28). At the same time, we are created mortal (Gen. 2:7); and weak: from time to time we fall.

These two elements of creativity and mortality constitute a positive tension which enable us to propagate human progress in this world as well as to rely on God. We constantly need to keep a right balance between exercising our human creativity and the recognition of our mortality, our need for God.

As creative beings, we measure human progress in terms of economic success, academic success, elevation to a position of authority, advancement in science and technology, which are all very good as long as they do not draw us away from God.

However, many at times, the more we seem to progress, the less we focus on our mortality; on our frailty, on the need for God in our lives. We become proud and start building our own towers of Babel – our success stories (Gen. 11:1-9) and so, we slowly drift away from God.

God’s Merciful Love for Humanity

The good news is that God is loving and merciful. Even when we forget ourselves and abandon God, God neither forgets nor abandon us. God constantly gives us the opportunity for conversion, and especially during Lenten season which starts today.

Dear friends, Ash Wednesday inaugurates forty days’ experience of God’s Merciful Love for Us. By signing ourselves with ashes, we acknowledge our sinfulness in the various ways in which we hurt others, hurt the environment, hurt ourselves, and ultimately hurt our relationship with God. Our conversion starts with this very realization of our sinfulness and the need to return to God and ask for forgiveness.

Today God offers us the forgiveness. As we heard in the first reading from the Prophet Joel, God is ready to welcome us back if we return to God in all sincerity because the Lord “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.”

There is no need to despair, no need to shy away from God in shame like Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8-13), nor allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity precisely because our merciful God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but in our conversion in order that we may live (Ez. 33:11).

Lenten season offers us a time for repentance and to reconcile

The church, during Lenten season offers us a time for repentance, a time for receiving God’s mercy, and a time to be reconciled with God, with one another, and with our mother earth. Our reconciliation starts today.

For, as St. Paul, noted in the Second letter to the Corinthians, the God who has reconciled “us to Godself through Christ” and made us Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation, invites us to: “be reconciled with God” for “now is the day of salvation.” 

The reconciliation with God, with neighbor, and with nature during Lenten season is not an event; it is a process which commences today and reaches its climax at Easter when we celebrate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.

As we embark on this reconciliatory process, the Gospel reminds us that this reconciliatory process involves prayer, sacrifice (fasting), and almsgiving.

Fasting, prayer and almsgiving, as preached by Jesus

In His Lenten message for 2021, Pope Francis reminds us that “fasting, prayer and almsgiving, as preached by Jesus (cf. Mt 6:1-18), enable and express our conversion. The path of poverty and self-denial (fasting), concern and loving care for the poor (almsgiving), and childlike dialogue with the Father (prayer) make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity.”

Prayer from the depth of our hearts or from the hiddenness of our rooms strengthens our faith, nourishes our hope and trust in God’s mercy, and open our hearts to the cry of our brothers and sisters and to the cries of our mother earth.

In fasting, we share in the suffering of Christ who for our sake borne the burden of human sinfulness in order that “in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In almsgiving, we do not offer only material things, but our very selves. We offer our talents, our time, love, and mercy to our brothers and sisters who need not only material help, but our time, love, as well as mercy. 

Dear friends, may this Lenten season bring us more-closer to God in prayer, make us Christ-like through fasting, and bring us ever closer to one another as children of God through almsgiving. Amen.

Dcn. Charles Jaryekonga, SJ

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