A Reflection for Ash Wednesday
By Sister Susan Rose Francois, C.S.J.P.
As we begin the third Lent of the coronavirus pandemic, I invite you to sit with this reading from the Book of Joel. Listen as if you’ve never heard it before. Imagine that he is writing to us and our situation today: “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness.”
While we do not know much about the person who wrote these words, we do know that he was writing to a community in a time of crisis, a plague of locusts had wreaked havoc on livelihoods.
My friends, we have been living through a crisis which has indeed wreaked havoc on both livelihoods and lives. We are tired and we are weary. And here is the gift of 40 days, a sacred time set aside for prayer, contemplation, and reflection. What better time to return our weary hearts to God, to rest in God’s kindness, mercy, and graciousness?
We have already been fasting in ways we never could have imagined: grandparents from grandchildren, children from playmates, entire parish communities from the Eucharist. More than one person I know has remarked that it’s almost like we have been in Lent for nearly two years.
What we would give to be able to answer Joel’s call—to blow the trumpet, or sing a song together even, call an assembly, assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants—without having to worry about virus strains and social distancing.
We weep for lives lost during the pandemic. We lament the economic impact on parents who are struggling to feed their families or keep a roof over their children’s heads. Some may indeed be wondering, “Where is God in all of this?”—and Joel replies: “The Lord was stirred with concern for his land and took pity on his people.”
This is our God, here with us in good times and bad, gracious, and kind and merciful.
Paul reminds us that we are called not only to return our own hearts to God, but to go out and be “ambassadors for Christ” with our hearts and with our lives.
How might I, how might you, how might we, be ambassadors for Christ this Lent, even with the pandemic reality? How might we be ambassadors for Christ in our families, at our in-person or virtual workplaces, running errands, reaching out to someone who is alone and has been alone for quite some time?
Through our prayer, study, and action we have an opportunity this Lent to return to God with our whole hearts and bring Christ to others, not when the pandemic is finally over, or we’ve moved into our new normal, but now and here, these 40 days.
As Paul says: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time.”