Today the Church begins its yearly retreat in preparation for the feast of Easter. The powerful symbol of ashes draws crowds without fail. The words of the prophet Joel—“Return to me…”—are a clear invitation to set on this journey with purpose and clarity. Lent is a season of preparation for those to be baptized, and a season of penance for those already baptized. Both groups are called to a conversion of heart so that we can all be the “new creation” celebrated at Easter.
As we begin this season, I am sure we ask ourselves how we want to spend this special time. Last Sunday we heard Jesus say to Peter: “Put out into deep water….” Where is this deep water? How do we prepare to recognize it? Each year as Ash Wednesday approaches, I try to think of a new way to experience Lent—a sort of lens to experience the rich liturgical readings and prayers and notice the movements of grace within my life. The readings, prayers and rituals of Lent are guides leading to a more intense participation in the Paschal Mystery. Several times I have used the baptismal lens and have put myself in the shoes of a catechumen to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. This year the Jubilee Year of Mercy offers me a lens to look at Jesus—his life, words and actions—as I reflect on how Jesus reveals himself to me. How do I reflect God’s mercy to others because I have known that mercy?
In addition to the Jubilee Year there are several reasons that make me choose mercy as a lens. In this liturgical year which began on November 29, 2015, the Church meditates on the Gospel of Luke for most of the Sunday readings. For Luke, Jesus is the compassionate Savior for all, Jew or Gentile. He reaches out to the poor and marginalized, to women and the outcast. He emphasizes divine mercy depicting God as the parent who forgives with unbounded kindness. So Luke has already been a guide as I begin Lent. This year our Dominican sisters and brothers celebrate the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Order of Preachers. I am touched by the fact that Dominic did not just talk about God but he addressed God as “My Mercy.” And lastly, just the other day I noticed a rare event. The second best seller on the New York Times non-fiction hardcover list is The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis after just 2 weeks on the list. I don’t ever remember seeing something like this before. So given all of these events and factors, I decided to use mercy as the lens for this Lent. What might be a lens for you? The clues are all around you.
We receive ashes and wear them with hope in our hearts. Today’s readings are reassuring. Joel tells us that God is “gracious and merciful…rich in kindness.” Matthew tells us that God who sees our charity, prayer and fasting will reward us. It is this hope that allows us to hear God say to us: “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” Today is that day!
–Sister Dominica Rocchio, SC
Sr. Dominica, most recently a member of the Congregation’s leadership team, has ministered in education as a teacher, principal, and in administrative positions in the archdioceses of New York and Newark, NJ. In Newark, she served as Superintendent of Schools and Secretary for Education.