Ash Wednesday: Return to Me with Your Whole Heart

This is the first part of our seven part Lenten Reflection series with the theme Lenten Tears of Conversion: A Season of Transformation. Listening to Pope Francis’ call at the US—Mexico border to “weep over injustice” and soften our hearts, members of the community, including Columban Fathers, co-workers, interns, volunteers, and short-term missionaries, reflect on how God’s mercy has entered their heart and transformed them.The first reflection is from Scott Wright, Director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach.

Every year at the beginning of Lent, Christians are offered a heart-felt plea from our merciful and compassionate God: “Return to me with your whole heart!” (Joel 2:12)

Traditionally, Lent is a discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is a journey of faith, preparing us for Holy Week and Easter. It lasts forty days, recalling Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, and Jesus’ forty days in the desert. It is a time of personal conversion, an invitation to encounter God and Christ in the poor, and to respond with justice, mercy and compassion.

But do we have eyes to see and the ears to hear God’s cry in the poor and from the earth, calling us to return with our whole heart?

St. Augustine says about Lent: “Don’t believe that fasting suffices. Fasting punishes you, but it does not restore your brother or sister! Your fasting will be fruitful if you provide for the needs of another. How many poor people could be nourished by the meal you did not take today?” Fasting is a call to service, and there are many ways that we can reach out to those who are vulnerable in our midst during this time, especially immigrants and refugees in our midst who are afraid, and Native Americans who are protecting their sacred lands and waters.

Fasting is also a call to justice. The prophet Isaiah reminds us: “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house? When you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

These are challenging times, times which invite us to go deeper, to ground ourselves in the values and truth of our faith, to take courage and to take risks, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to reach out and connect with those who are hungry, homeless and unemployed, with those who are strangers in our midst, immigrants and refugees, with those who are afraid because they are different.

God invites us to see Christ in each of them, to welcome and befriend them, to protect and defend them, and to respond with justice, mercy and compassion.

These are also times of renewal and hope: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). We are invited into a deeper journey of faith, one in which we are active participants, but we are not in control. We can do something to make this world a little more just, more merciful and more compassionate, and that something we can do we ought to do.

In that spirit, let us draw strength during this time of Lent from the wisdom and the invitation of this prayer by Bishop Ken Untener (deceased), often attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero:

“We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”

Weekly Reflections on Justice is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, Columban parishioners, Columban Missionaries, and friends of the Columbans. We hope these reflections help to guide you in your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.