Ash Wednesday

Engaging Faith | Tue, Feb 21, 2012

By John Bucki, S.J.
Source: Center of Concern

Lectionary reflections for Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday
February 22, 2012


Joel 2:12-18
2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2
Matthew 6:1-6,16-18


February 22: Ash Wednesday, Start of Lent


We must reject the temptation to offer a privatized and individualistic spirituality.
-- John Paul II, Message for Lent at the End of the Jubilee Year

What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else. We should never be incapable of “showing mercy” towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor.
-- Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2012

The Christian message does not inhibit men and women from building up the world, or make them disinterested in the welfare of their fellow human beings: on the contrary it obliges them more fully to do these very things.
-- Vatican II, Gaudiam et Spes, 34

In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of the world’s population, indifference and self-centered isolation stand in stark contrast to the “gaze” of Christ. 
-- Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2006

By drawing close to others through almsgiving, we draw close to God.
-- Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2008

Fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. …. Voluntary fasting enables us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends low and goes to the help of his suffering brother.
-- Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2009

… we are moved to free our hearts every day from the burden of material things, from a self-centered relationship with the “world” that impoverishes us and prevents us from being available and open to God and our neighbor.
-- Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2011

Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with a full belly. If it is read in the light of the experience and the hopes of the oppressed, the Bible's revolutionary themes - promise, exodus, resurrection and spirit - come alive.
-- Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit

Thoughts for your consideration

Today we hear the prophet Joel proclaim God’s message to the people:
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.

What type of “return to God” is called for this year – in our generation – in this time and place – in the midst of our world’s issues?

* Is it a call to live more simply as we deal with the realities of our economic problems?
* Is it a call to change our way of living, so we stop those human activities that are destroying the earth with global warming?  Is it a call for some sort of “carbon fast?”
* Is it an end to greed?  An end to the greedy practices that created the “sub-prime mortgage crisis” and the “financial collapse of our banking system” and the loss of jobs and income and homes for so many people?
* Is it an end to the practices that pay executives hundreds of times more than the average worker, even when their companies are not doing well?  [In his message for Lent in 2008, Benedict XVI writes “According to the teaching of the Gospel, we are not owners but rather administrators of the goods we possess. … In the Gospel, Jesus explicitly admonishes the one who possesses and uses earthly riches only for self.”]
* Is it a call to following Catholic Social Teaching and respect the rights of workers and their unions?
* Is it an end to the use of torture and other such practices by various governments?  An end to practices like “extraordinary rendition” or “torture by proxy?” 
* Is it supporting the efforts of people in various nations to have democratic governments which respect the human and economic rights of their people?
* Is it creating policies and practices that give all men and women access to quality health care? 
* Is it bringing to an end the excess power of lobbyists and wealthy special interests in and around our government?  Is it working to be sure that the needs of ordinary people are heard by our Congress?
* Is it bringing to an end the excessive spending for war and preparation for war by our nation and almost every nation in the world? 
* Is it changing the way we live so as to respect the environment and limit our over consumption of limited resources?
* Is it creating a less polarizing political discourse in our country?
* Is it becoming more reflective and prayerful as we experience our world?
* Maybe returning to God will involve moving toward putting the common good before our own good!  

In his message for Lent last year, Benedict XVI reminds us that “the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love.”

More Thoughts for your consideration

Lent is a time to make faith real in practices which are a source of growth, life and even joy. Growth and new life are possible. It is possible to move beyond earning religious credits or spiritual merit badges to freedom, joy, justice, peace and new life. It is possible to move beyond a spirituality of showing off to a spirituality of awareness and new life for the whole community. It is possible for the whole community to be renewed with a spirit committed to the common good of all God’s people – a spirit dedicated to justice and peace.  It is possible to live a spirituality which is in touch with the real world and its problems – especially the poor. The prophet Joel calls the whole community to renewal and writes: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart…”

It is possible to move from “a superficial sort of prayer” or “a show off type of religious practice” to something that is genuine and life giving and transforming. Prayer can be connected to life. Prayer can be rooted in an awareness of oneself and the world as it is.  Prayer can move us toward concern for others.  Prayer can move us toward a concern for justice and peace.  Contact with those who are poor in need can nourish this prayer.

It is possible to move from fasting as a “burden” or “painful giving up” to a religious exercise that makes us aware and alive. Fasting can move us to solidarity with the poor and the hungry and can also put us in touch with our own self and our own desires. Our Christian spirituality reminds us that from “awareness without judgment” can come freedom and life – a whole new way of looking at things – a way of looking at things that is less self-absorbed and more sensitive to others, especially the poor.

It is possible to move from a “painless almsgiving out of our surplus” or a “showing-off kind of almsgiving” or an “almsgiving that make us feel superior to others” to a practice that makes us aware of the needs of others and leads us to a deep and real solidarity with those who are otherwise separate from ourselves. It might even to be possible to move through acts of charity toward acts for justice in solidarity with those who experience injustice. 

For Reflection in your Faith Sharing Group

What kind of fasting will help you get your values in order this Lent?
What kind of prayer will help you be more aware of those in need?
What kind of almsgiving and good works will help you move away from selfishness?


In May of 2000, John Paul II said, “Solidarity is learned through ‘contact’ rather than through ‘concepts,’ and should permeate the sphere of being before that of acting.”  What events have helped you to have contact with those in need?  What events during this Lenten season will help you have a healthy contact with those who are in need?   What during this Lenten season will help you get in touch with the needs of the world?


A story from the desert fathers: Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not become fire?

Action - Link

Message of Benedict XVI for Lent 2012
“Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works” (Heb 10:24)

Carbon Fast: Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  In light of the danger of climate change and environmental destruction of the earth as we know it, in recent years some people in the church have proposed that Christians take part in a “Carbon Fast” during Lent.  Get more info about the effort at

“The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.”
— Pope Benedict, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate

“Crazy Facts”

Save the Children recently released report called: A LIFE FREE FROM HUNGER: Tackling child malnutrition.  In it they report:
* Every hour of every day, 300 children die because of malnutrition. It’s an underlying cause of more than a third of children’s deaths – 2.6 million every year.
* Malnutrition is an underlying cause of the death of 2.6 million children each year –one-third of the global total of children’s deaths
* One in four of the world’s children are stunted. In developing countries this figure is as high as one in three.  That means their body and brain has failed to develop properly because of malnutrition.
* 450 million children will be affected by stunting in the next 15 years, if current trends continue.

Prayers of Intercession

Response:  Lord, help us return to your way of life.
For the grace to focus on the common good before our needs and perspectives, we pray….
For an end to our selfishness and greed, we pray…..
For an end to all those policies that promote war, violence, torture, and the denial of human rights, we pray…..
For an end to our policies and practices that deny people quality health care, we pray….
For an end to our misplaced priorities that result in a world where not everyone has enough to eat and a decent place to life, we pray….
For an end to all our practices that result in the abuse of our planet, we pray…..
For an end to all hunger and malnutrition, we pray….
For policies and practices that give every person an equal opportunity to participate in our society and its resources, we pray….
For a new vision and a new set of behaviors that promote hope, dignity and life for all, we pray….

Prayer - Meditation

O God, who out of nothing brought everything that is,
out of what I am bring more of what I dream but haven’t dared;
       direct my power and passion to creating life where there is death,
       to putting flesh of action on bare-boned intentions,
       to lighting fires against the midnight of indifference,
       to throwing bridges of care across canyons of loneliness;
       so that I can look on creation, together with you,
       and, behold, call it very good;
       through Jesus Christ My Lord.
Bring More of What I Dream” by Ted Loder
In Guerrillas of Grace


A Prayer for Unity in a Time of War
by Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

I implore you then, live up to your calling…spare no effort to make fast with bonds of peace the unity which the Spirit gives. – Ephesians 4:1, 3

Thou hope and joy of all creation, You have given to all generations the power to seek you, and in seeking you, to find you. Grant us, we pray, a clearer vision of your truth, greater faith in your power, more confident assurance of your love.

Our sisters and brothers in Iraq suffer overwhelming grief and affliction. Bombed, maimed, mutilated, wasted, tormented, these our brothers and sisters endure unending war, much of it fueled by U.S. wealth and arrogance. Grant us, we pray, courage to overcome our cautions, to set aside our unjust comforts, to resist the works of war and embrace the works of mercy.

Grant us, we pray, the grace to hear deep in our hearts our Muslim brothers’ and sister’s daily call to prayer: “O God you are peace. From you is peace and unto you is peace. Let us live our lives in peace. Bring us into your peace. Unto you be honor and glory. We hear and obey. Grant us your forgiveness God, and unto you be our becoming.” Amen.

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