A Reflection for Ash Wednesday

New Ways of Engaging with the World

By: Mary Beaudoin

Each year we hear the Ash Wednesday readings. What would change if we took these words of Scripture more seriously, and not as something so familiar? What would happen if we acted toward one another the way God acts toward us?

The reading from Joel says that God is “gracious and merciful.” If we were gracious and merciful in each situation and toward every person, would people take advantage of us? Perhaps we take advantage of God’s mercy all the time. 

The reading goes on to say that God is “relenting in punishment.” I recently met a young man who had served three years of a ten-year prison sentence. Then, at a hearing, the judge decided that relenting in punishment would be the best way to help this young man who had taken responsibility for his actions, had been rehabilitated, and was ready to be restored to society. In a similar spirit, this Lent we can look for ways to show mercy and restore relationships.

The reading from 2 Corinthians urges us to be reconciled to God, but that is only part of the challenge. We must also be reconciled to each other.

God has shown us a two-step plan toward reconciliation with one another: Listen and Help. “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” We must somehow calm our egos enough to actually hear others. Over the past couple of years, experiences in restorative justice and circle process have led me to see how transformative listening can be. 

A group with whom I have been meeting for several years recently spent time learning about restorative justice philosophies and principles; we began to practice circle process in our meetings. It yielded incredible benefits in facilitating deeper listening and enabling us to better help each other and our group. 

The Church gives us the three Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to guide us, strengthen our resolve, and bind us to one another. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus instructs us to follow these disciplines in secret. The way of meekness and humility is not always very popular, and sometimes appears to be quite ineffective. It often seems that those who are loudest, wealthiest, or most powerful receive the attention, win the argument, and have their needs satisfied. But Jesus asks us to consider a different way—walking with the lowly, listening to others, and praying with trust in our heavenly Father who hears and sees in secret and who repays us abundantly. 

Today’s Scripture passages invite us into a new way of engaging with the world and with one another. By being stirred to concern, showing compassion to others, and moving out as ambassadors for Christ, we can indeed share the joy of salvation with those who have lost hope.


Mary volunteers as chair of the Death Penalty Abolition and Restorative Justice Issue Team for the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative. She also works as Director of Religious Education at Saint Raphael Catholic Church in Rockville, MD.