One line in the first reading for Ash Wednesday caught my eye this morning: “Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing.” The prophet Joel is speaking about God. After declaring that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment,” he throws that “perhaps” line at us. I started out by saying that it caught my eye. It would be more accurate to say that it hit me smack in the face. “Perhaps he will again relent.”
I have grown so accustomed to the belief that God always forgives our sins if we but admit our guilt that I don’t even begin to question God’s mercy. However, the prophet apparently is not so sure. Of course, the explanation for his hesitation is quite simple. Joel doesn’t know about Jesus and the Paschal Mystery. How fortunate we are to live at a time when faith in Jesus and in his life-giving Passion and Death assures us of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
At the same time, we must also listen to St. Paul’s warning this morning. “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Because we are so sure of the mercy of God, we may also become complacent and fail to grasp the immediacy of this message. Our conversion from sin is an on-going and a constant effort that cannot put off until tomorrow what is necessary for today. This is not a matter of straightening out the mess on our desk or putting off the laundry until tomorrow. This is a task for today and every day.
With the entire Church we pray today, “Spare us, O Lord, O spare us, your people and let not your wrath be upon us forever.” Though we have finished with our lessons from Jesus ben Sira, there is one that is very appropriate for Ash Wednesday from chapter seven of his book: “In all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin.”
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator