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March 6 / Ash Wednesday

“Have mercy on me, God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”  ~ Ps 51:1

If there is any doubt that today we cross the threshold from Ordinary Time to the season of penitence, the opening verse of Psalm 51 in the Ash Wednesday liturgy puts it to rest. “Have mercy,” we call, fervidly seeking God’s forgiveness. The plea we utter this day is intense—the Hebrew is compact and urgent—and it sets in motion the deeply personal process of repentance. For many of us, engulfed by the tumult of social media, the thought of undertaking honest and focused self-examination in the quietness of our hearts is, at best, off-putting. The work of naming our wrongdoing to ourselves and to God is unlikely to bring immediate gratification. Nor will it engender the sort of external and public validation we may crave from our frequent forays into Twitter, Snapchat or FaceBook. The Creator of all will not be giving a “thumbs up” to our expressions of remorse. The Divine Majesty is probably not going to “follow” our episodic utterances of regret on Instagram. No, repentance is an I-Thou exercise. And Lent is the moment — or 40 days of moments — for us to turn away from our constant and public self-curating and turn towards God. It is the moment — or 40 days of them — for us to turn down the volume of our lives and, spending time daily in God’s presence, to beg him to make us whole again. And we can do this with absolute trust in his abiding love and his infinite mercy. In the Hebrew verse, the words for “steadfast love” (chesed) and “abundant mercy” (rachamim) occupy the center, radiating out to envelop each one of us as we pray for healing. It is a reassuring start to the weeks ahead.

Lord Jesus Christ, shower your mercy on me, a sinner, this day and always.Amen.

For today’s readings, click here.

To hear the Miserere of Renaissance composer Josquin des Prez, click here.

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