Return to me with your whole heart: Ash Wednesday Meditations of Roman Catholic Women Priests
Today, in a special way, we turn our hearts back to our loving God who forgives us everything and loves us unconditionally. Yet, even with such amazing love we manage to turn our backs on God and lose touch with God’s healing presence that is always there for us. We become lukewarm in the practice of our faith. We get lost in the desert of our own ways and paths and wants and upsets.
Sometimes today’s theology softens the presence of sin so that it is almost irrelevant. But there is no doubt that there is grievous sin in the world and that we are a part of it. There are the hungry that we do not feed, there are those without shelter that we pass by, there are those living in violence that we turn our backs on,preferring to care for ourselves first and walk by on the other side. There is no doubt that at times we feel cut off from God by our own doing. Sometimes personal life events can also precipitate this state. For this Christ-follower and Pastor, the deep vicissitudes of this last year brought about by dealing with serious illness and the necessity for change has been difficult. Letting go of our usual worship services and regular contact with the church family, especially the young people has been a deep disappointment. Being there for the flock, not to lose even one, even while bringing in other shepherds, has been a challenge. Accompanying our Co-Pastor and my beloved life partner, Judy B. as she fights for life with chemo that leaves her fatigued beyond words and in uncertain territory has been painful while witnessing her faith and strength has been an inspiration for us both to go on, continue on the journey. Yet, there are moments when bitterness and despair creeps into a usually grateful heart-when I curse rather than praise and bless. I am deeply aware of my need to return to God this Lenten season.
Thank God for the road signs that can lead us back home. God is waiting, patiently waiting for our return. Ash Wednesday is such a road sign, it marks the beginning of the Lenten season-the forty days before the celebration of the Paschal mystery- Easter and rising again with Jesus, the Christ. . Even as our ancestors in faith made forty day journeys (and longer-40 years- numbers signifying long journeys) to new life we take time now to reflect on how we are living the promises of our baptism, how we are doing at loving and welcoming all of our neighbors, how we are doing at living peace through justice, and how we are preparing our hearts to be in the presence of our God who is Love.
Our readings for the day illuminate what this day is about:
Joel 2:12-18- The prophet Joel calls the people back to God, through repentance, telling them: “Even now, says our God, return to me with your whole heart…rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord,your God. for (our God) is slow to anger, and rich in kindness…”
Psalm 51 speaks of God’s great compassion in wiping out our offenses and asks God to “give us back the joy of our salvation”.
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 implores us to be reconciled to Christ and live for justice, becoming more like him-NOW.
In the Gospel, Matthew 6:1-6,16-18 Jesus reminds us to do all the good works we do not so people see us and praise us but secretly and God will see us- to live Christ as Christ lived.
As a younger person I wanted to receive the ashes so others could see that I follow Christ, now I simply want to receive them and remember how fragile and tenuous and temporary life is and to turn my whole heart back to God so that I, and those whose lives I may touch in any way, may be forever in the arms of Love.
And now we have the joy of seeing our newly ordained priest, Rvda. Maria Elena Sierra Sanchez who is also a school Principal in a poor community in Cali, Colombia teach and lead her children in receiving ashes with understanding. One may say, what sins can these children have?, but that is to miss the import of this day. These dear children, like us, their elders, may or may not be doing willful things that separate them from God, but their lives are full of things that demand their attention and little time and energy is left over for relating with, communing with our loving God and for following Christ Jesus. They too can grow away from the God who welcomed them in baptism. It is up to them and each of us to find the God within, and outside of ourselves, all around us, the God of the Universe,the transcendent and the More, the essence of Love and to live in close relation with the living Christ. Do note how Rvda. Maria Elena has the children bless the ashes with her. It takes the holiness of each one of us to sanctify ashes into life. (Some have reported that they can not see the pictures I have posted below. I am very sorry about that and don’t know how to remedy it! I can see them here. They show Rvda. Maria Elena gathering the entire school in the Courtyard and teaching them. There is a small altar and the ashes are on it. She moves away from this and is close to them as she teaches/preaches on Miercoles de Cenizas- Ash Wednesday and Lent-Cuaresma. There are pictures of her blessing the ashes with the children’s arms raised to join her in the blessing . There is a beautiful picture of her putting the ashes on the head of a girl who appears to be about ten-twelve years old. )
to remember Jesus’ life and passion and death.
It’s a time of self-examination and penance.
It’s a time when we concentrate on re-shaping our lives
to learn what we can do without
so others can have something to do with.
Let’s start by remembering our unity with all creation,
each of us a part of God’s immense universe.
Let’s remember that we, like all of creation, are important.
Let’s remember that sometimes, though, we think we’re in charge,
that all too often we act like we’re the center of the universe—
as if everything is here for us,
for us to use, even to use up.
Lent calls us to remember that we live in, and through,
connections with all that was and is and shall be,
and that we are responsible for taking care—
care of ourselves,
care of our family and friends and neighbors
and enemies and all humankind,
care of animals and plants,
care of water and sky,
care of the whole planet, our common home.
So we are called this Lent to ask God
to show us where we live in the illusion
that we are separate and apart from the rest of creation.
We are called to ask God
to show us the old, ingrained habits we need to get rid of;
to show us the ways we need to change;
to show us the new practices
that we need to get into the habit of doing.
This is the real work of Lent.
It’s not about guilt or shame.
It’s not meant to make us crawl
or beat us down
or make us suffer.
The real work of Lent
is to renew our sense of connection,
restore our dignity,
and call us to a place where we choose life
and shoulder our responsibility to act co-creatively with God.
So let us answer the call
and take the first step on our Lenten journey.
Call to the Lenten Journey
Priest: Lent calls us to journey along the edge.
All: Lent calls us to the cutting edge,
where the wheat falls to the ground and new life comes forth.Priest: Lent not only calls us to give up something
but also invites us to participate
in the mystery of God-with-us.
All: God of all creation,
by your grace, call us from grief into gladness, from despair into hope,
from estrangement into right relations with you and with each other
and with the earth.
Blessing and Imposition of Ashes
So we begin.
We declare the fast, call the assembly,
listen to God’s voice, and act on it.
We’ll find the one thing that we can do
to change our lives this Lent—
and doing that, no matter if we stumble at it,
we will change the world.
We will now bless these ashes,
and all will be invited to come forward
to receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads
as our communal act of penance—
the sign of dying to something negative in our lives
and preparing to rise in new and positive ways.
Let us embrace this opportunity to change our lives,
to embody our values,
and to walk humbly with our God.
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m./Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue
Toledo, OH 43606
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor