Ash Wednesday: March 2, 2022
Our first reading for today sets out the challenge of Lent for us: a call from God to “return to me with your whole heart.” An expression of penance was to tear one’s clothing. But God says: “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” We are to tear our hearts open. The call is to go beyond an external return to God and return with our “whole heart.”
As Christians, our wholehearted turning to God is in many spiritual conversions throughout our lives, as we fall more deeply in love with God, and all that God loves, the whole world. We might ask ourselves: where does our love for God and God’s world call us into deeper conversion this Lent?
St. John Paul II was the first Pope to call us to “ecological conversion.” In 2001 he said that “humanity has disappointed God’s expectations” by devastating plains and valleys, polluting water and air, and disfiguring the Earth’s habitat. “We must therefore encourage and support the ‘ecological conversion’ which in recent decades has made humanity more sensitive to the catastrophe to which it has been heading,” St. John Paul II said.
In his encyclical Laudato Si’ released in 2015, Pope Francis echoes St. John Paul II. Pope Francis identifies our current ecological crisis as a “summons to profound interior conversion.” What everyone needs, he writes, is an “‘ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” (LS 217).
The Lenten tradition of fasting (“giving something up”) helps us experience our dependency on God. Perhaps this Lent our fasting will also help us experience our interdependence with all Life in our common journey on this planet. Pope Francis has some suggestions of what we can do, and some things we can give up:
“…….environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings.”
Patty Gillis is a retired Pastoral Minister. She served on the Board of Directors at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit. She is currently a member of the Laudato Si Vision Fulfillment Team and the Passionist Solidarity Network.