Ash Wednesday

by Angie O'Gorman

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Let’s begin with Joel, the second minor prophet in the Hebrew tradition. He lived in Judea, probably around 400 BCE. A locust plague has attacked and destroyed everything his Hebrew agricultural community needs for survival: fields, produce, flocks, herds, and a good many inhabitants.

Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:12-18

Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14, 17

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Full text of the readings

Like us, his community seeks meaning in the surrounding terror. Why? Why us? Why now? They seek a way of understanding what seems to be the action of God -- the same God they’d sacrifice to in the Temple to insure their security -- against them.

Joel, likely a priest himself, first calls the priests to penance and fasting. They, in turn, call the people to a community meeting and holy fast. In the midst of loss, Joel insists that if all repent, the power of God will restore the community. It is because of who God is that Joel can say this. The Hebrew God participates in life by bringing restoration from devastation. That participation comes in the form of God’s Spirit, poured out on the community -- women and men, young and old (Joel 2:28-33). On the Day of Yahweh, says Joel, the divine presence will come, like an invading army, an irresistible force. But beforehand, the people must repent and purify themselves, not to placate God, but to be opened to the restorative work of God among them. Otherwise, they might miss it. God can only do so much.

[This reflection is from Coming to Consciousness: Reflections for Lent 2011 by Angie O'Gorman and is based on the lectionary readings for each day of Lent. Coming to Consciousness is a publication of Pax Christi USA and is reprinted here by permission of the author and Pax Christi USA.

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The full booklet has reflections for every day of Lent. You can order copies here: Coming to Consciousness: Reflections for Lent 2011. Bulk discounts are available.]

About the Author

Angie O’Gorman’s essays have been published in America magazine, National Catholic Reporter, and Commonweal. She has been involved in human rights work and nonviolent conflict resolution in the United States, Central America, and the West Bank. Her novel, The Book of Sins, was published last January.

About Pax Christi USA

In a world that settles differences by armed violence and defines “justice” as “revenge,” Pax Christi USA dares to break the cycle of violence by fostering reconciliation. Pax Christi USA is the national Catholic peace movement. Our membership includes more than 130 U.S. bishops, 800 parish sponsors, 650 religious communities, 75 high school and college campus groups, 300 local groups, and tens of thousands of individual members. The work of Pax Christi USA begins in personal life and extends to communities of reflection and action to transform structures of society. Pax Christi USA rejects war and every form of violence and domination.

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