Woman with ash cross on forehead

February 17, 2021 | Martha Hurley, Ph.D. | Today's Readings

"For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment." (Joel 2:13)

On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, we are called to reconnect with God. 

This is the start of the 40 days before Easter when we gather, repent, and seek mercy. Often we think of this period in terms of seeking mercy or forgiveness for personal sins — but this is not just about us as individuals. We also gather to ask God to show compassion by forgiving the sins of others.

The past year of political strife, COVID-19-related issues, and protest tested my resolve. I spent a great deal of time thinking about what I did or could have done to improve others' situations. It seemed even more important that I reflect on my relationship with God. 

We all have said or done something over the past year that we regret or that might be considered sinful.

During Lent, we reflect on our current relationship with the Church and our actions. After the year we all have had, I am thankful for the opportunity to gather in solidarity for repentance and the reaffirmation of a right relationship with a God who "is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing" (Joel 2:13).

Repentance, however, is not just about the individual. In today’s first reading in Joel, the priests gathered everyone to ask the Lord to spare the people. 

Likewise, we should seek reconciliation for others spiritually through prayer and think about alternative ways of approaching repentance and healing in other contexts.

More than two million people are currently held in American prisons and jails. These prisoners are made in the image of a God who is loving, merciful, and kind — a God who in the Scriptures was forgiving even in the face of egregious harms.

For those who have caused criminal harm, punishment remains the dominant response. Incarceration, however, is not our only option. 

Restorative justice provides an opportunity for those who have caused harm to reestablish a right relationship with victims, society, and for some, with God. Repentance, mercy, and justice collide to produce healing and hope for victims, those who committed the harm, and society.

During this Lenten season, as a sign of compassion for those involved with the justice system, why not set aside time to reflect on repentance and healing from harm through a restorative justice lens?



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