God, come to my assistance, and make haste to help me. Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart....
I don’t know about you, but for me anyway, going to confession is usually the easy part; I know Jesus will always forgive, and that the priest will assure me of as much. The harder part is what should either precede or follow the Sacrament: asking others for their forgiveness, too.
In the first reading today, Ash Wednesday, I’m therefore drawn to the first line presented by the prophet Joel, especially the instruction to return to the Lord immediately—even now. It’s one of those things that for many of us, myself included, is easier said than done. Yet there are people in my life whose personal example demonstrates that it’s indeed possible to work toward reconciliation with one another, and not just with Jesus in the confessional.
The most glaring such example for me is found in the way my own mother has lived her life the past two decades. Since the time when her MS forced her out of the workforce, and over the twenty years since as she’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, diverticulitis, endometrial cancer, pelvic insufficiency fractures, and skin cancer (to name the biggies), my mother has had two common refrains each time we’re about to close out a phone conversation or a visit: “I’m sorry for...,” and “Thank you for helping me.” And while the “thank you” statements typically pertain to assistance that may have been provided on that specific occasion, her “I’m sorry...” statements give evidence of just how much reflection and soul-searching she’s done, often citing particular moments from her 74 years for which she wants to apologize, even now.
It’s easy for me, of course, to rationalize that my mother’s simply had a lot of time on her hands over the past couple of decades, and so naturally has had the privilege of reflecting back over her life, and so forth. I seem to excuse myself from such an obligation, since I have too much to do each day—yet I suspect it’s not exactly accurate to say, with all her medical travails, that my mother has had a lot of leisure time on her hands. Suffering probably takes more time and space than I’ve yet had occasion to appreciate, and surely presents the one who suffers with very real temptations to reject invitations to reconciliation and gratitude, you know?
So here at the start of the Lenten season, you and I are called again to reconcile with our God and with one another. And are most of us reading this reflection entirely too busy for such things? Yes, in all likelihood. But might much of our “busyness” pale in value compared with those one or two relationships in our lives that most need some reconciliation, even now?
Into Your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit. Protect me, Lord, as I stay awake; and watch over me at rest—that awake, I may keep watch with You; and at rest, may rest in Your peace. Amen.