Ash Wednesday begins with an entreaty from God, one that has been heard down through the generations. It is an appeal from the very heart of God. He is calling his wayward children to come back to him. Promising us that he is rich in mercy and compassion.
God calls after us again and again, wanting to be given the opportunity to bind up our wounds and to heal our sorrows. The only problem we have is the question: are we going to let him?
Ash Wednesday is a day for us to decide to turn back to God and re-commit ourselves to this relationship. The problem for many is so often we feel we don’t know how to do this. But as with any relationship we need to invest our time and energy into it. We know that those relationships that are the most successful are the ones in which we have invested time and energy.
So how do we do this with God? Well, a good place to start is to begin by spending time alone with God, whether this is in the quiet of your home or in Church or elsewhere. What’s important is that we are committed to it.
If we want to know what God has to say then we must read his ‘letters’ to us in the form of Scripture. If you are not sure where to start you could follow the Church in the readings she selects for the readings at Mass each day (see here).
We need to be honest in our reflection about how much time we give to God. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our everyday necessities that we push God into a short space on Sunday and maybe a extra few minutes now and then. But God wants to be the centre of our lives; he wants to fill us with good things, bringing healing and freedom into our lives; in fact he wants us to share in the fullness of his own life.
God promises us that every wound, all our faults and sins, all those things that hold us back from him, will be dealt with in kindness and compassion – because he is slow to anger and rich in graciousness, and ready to relent.
In the readings for Ash Wednesday we hear that we must “let our hearts be broken not our garments torn”. In days past the tearing of garments was an outward sign of repentance; think of the Ninevites when they heard Jonah’s call to repentance. Our “outward sign” can be found, for example, in the things we give up this Lent, the chocolate, the alcohol, etc. But God asks more of us.
Yes, these small sacrifices please him, but he is more interested in the heart that makes the offering. He wants to touch and heal us, and our little acts of self denial will be meaningless if we do not allow God to change our hearts; this is what Lent is all about.
If over the next forty days we drawer closer to God and allow him to heal our hearts, then when we arrive at the day of resurrection at Easter we will allow ourselves, as C.S Lewis said, to be “surprised by joy”.