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ww lentBeginning today, Ash Wednesday, Christians around the world begin their observance of Lent. Since the fourth century, Christians have observed the 40 weekdays before Easter as a season of sorrow, reflection, repentance, fasting, abstinence, and acts of mercy.

The ashes which many traditions daub on the forehead are an outward symbol of our inner penitence. This, along with the practice of giving up some simple pleasure such as chocolate or going to movies or eating meat, have been habits of many since childhood.

Jesus does not discourage outward symbolic acts. But in today’s scripture reading from Mathew’s Gospel (Matthew 6, 1-6, 16-18), we are reminded that we should not do our outward acts for show but instead focus on doing them “in secret” where God alone knows our hearts.

Joel urges us to “rend your hearts and not your garments.” (Joel 2:13) Isaiah writes that a real fast is not to abstain from food but to help the needy. (Isaiah 58:6) And David in the Psalm tells us that God takes “no delight” in religious rituals like sacrifices and burnt offerings. The ultimate sacrifice, David says, “is a broken spirit” or a “contrite heart.” (Psalms 51:15–17).

What are we to make of all these scriptural prescriptions on this very first day of Lent as we move into our third year of a global pandemic?

Pope Francis invites us to live Lent as a time of friendship with a loving God.

“Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children. Lent is the road leading from slavery to freedom, from suffering to joy, from death to life. The mark of the ashes with which we set out reminds us of our origin: we were taken from the earth, we are made of dust. True, yet we are dust in the loving hands of God, who has breathed his spirit of life upon each one of us, and still wants to do so.” - Pope Francis, Homily, March 1, 2017

On this first day of Lent, let us intentionally claim our Baptismal identity and move forward in the days ahead, witnessing God’s love in our world as Jesus did.

Sister Rosemary Fry

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Out of deep respect for those who have cared for these lands since time immemorial, we are committed to tread lightly on the land, protect water as sacred, and affirm our desire for right relations with all Indigenous Peoples. - From our CSJ Land Acknowledgement

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