We very rarely hear from the book of Joel, but this reading is used every Ash Wednesday. Similar to Jesus’ message against the Pharisees about the importance of needing to cleanse the inside of the cup and not just the outside (Matthew 23:35), this passage speaks about cleansing one’s heart more than the superficial washing of garments (Joel 2:13a). Yet, the beauty of this passage is how it speaks of gracious and merciful God is, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment (Joel 2:13b). It ends with the words of comfort; the Lord showed “concern for his land and took pity on his people” (Joel 2:18)
Closer examination of the opening of the Second Reading notes “we are ambassadors for Christ” (II Corinthians 5:20). This collective nature is very evident today especially on Catholic universities because many students walk into the classrooms with ashes on their foreheads. This does not mean that being an ambassador will be easy or that we will be in the majority because being a visible witness may cause people to question us. While this may be taxing, we gain strength for this quest through the Gospel words to pray to God in secret for what God sees in secret, He will repay you (Matthew 6:6). As we get ashes on our heads today to commemorate the beginning of Lent, let us also take a moment to steal away for a few moments to pray to our Father in secret.
Similar to last year, there is a daily Jesuit/Ignatian Pilgrimage for Lent. The theme for this year is “Igniting our Values” and will run from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday (April 5). If you are interested in receiving these daily prayers/reflections, please sign up at: http://jesuits.org/story?TN=PROJECT-20140619032505