Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Come Back to Me

Ash Wednesday

By Colleen O’Sullivan
Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; 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, and relenting in punishment.  (Joel 2:12-13)
A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.  (Psalm 51:12)
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  (2 Corinthians 5:20b)

Long have I waited for your coming home to me
And living deeply our new life.
(from Come Back to Me, Gregory Norbet -

Most years I go to Mass in the evening on Ash Wednesday. So I have no idea how, or even if, that ashy cross on my forehead would impact others in my office or anywhere else I might go.  But I know what it says to me as I look in the mirror preparing for bed.

I see the ashes and remember the palms they came from, the palms the crowd waved as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Echoes of the hosannas and other shouts of acclamation ring in my ears.  But where were the crowds later that week?  No one waved palms, no one even stayed awake as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane about what awaited him.  No one waved any palms, no hosannas rang out, and no one even admitted knowing Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest.  No one waved palms on Good Friday; very few people bothered to make the trek to Golgotha with Jesus. 

These palms-become-ashes are a reminder to me of the many ways in my life I have let Jesus down, denied him, or betrayed him.  The ashes are an ancient symbol of the need for repentance and atonement.  I don’t like to wash them off, even as they bring me to awareness of ways I have distanced myself from the Lord, because, at the same time, I hear God calling:  Come back to me.  Even now, no matter what you’ve done or how far you’ve strayed, return to me with all your heart.  I am gracious and merciful.   I look forward to your homecoming with joyful anticipation.  I am waiting to embrace you, to kill the fatted calf and celebrate your return.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent.  We are invited to use the next few weeks to divest ourselves of whatever keeps us from being able to accompany Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem, to be with him through his passion and death, and to share with him in the joy of his Resurrection.

There are a multitude of ways to observe Lent – fasting, prayer, and giving to the poor are three that Jesus mentions in today’s Gospel reading.  You could give something up to make more room for God in your heart or you could decide to do something extra.

There are also many online retreats you could use in your Lenten prayer.  A few suggestions from the Ignatian tradition:  The Ignatian Workout for Lent: An Online Retreat -; An Ignatian Prayer Adventure -; From Ashes to Glory -;  Sacred Space Lenten Retreat -, then click on “Lenten Retreat” in the middle of the page; and Praying Lent 2014: An Online Ministry of Creighton University -

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