Ash Wednesday - a reflection

by Rosie Bradshaw

...”come back to me with all your hearts”... Joel 2:12 – 18

Lent begins with the clarion call of Ash Wednesday, that solemn and thoughtful day when the Priest uses the ashes of the previous years’ burnt palm crosses to draw the sign of the cross on our foreheads.

 Strangely, the restrictions of the pandemic may have helped us to appreciate that although they may not have been physically drawn on our foreheads for the Ash Wednesdays of the last two years, we have appreciated more fully perhaps, their spiritual symbolism – “Let your hearts be broken not your garments torn” - be transformed in the depths of your soul, not just in outer appearances.

 There is a feeling of anticipation - a desire that this year, this time, this Lent - we will do it properly. There is something about it being a day of reckoning, of signing up, casting ones vote;  a sensation of standing on the brink before taking the plunge. We shall each be one of the ones who stands up to be counted and marked; we shall be marked with that ashy cross; declared,  like children putting up our hands in class saying  “Yes”.

There must be cooperation and  intention – the intention to fully cooperate and participate in the transformative mystery of Lent.

The prophet Joel exhorts us,”... turn to the Lord your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion...” 

God reaches out a hand to us. We are being offered an opportunity to put behind us all our wrong headedness and mistakes, clear the slate; we are invited to resolve to turn back to God with renewed hope and trust. Ash Wednesday starts us on our way for Lent. Like trustful children leaning over a bridge to cast little paper boats onto a gushing stream, we cast ourselves, spiritually, onto the inexhaustible flow of God’s mercy.

That launching sets us off on a journey which we may find smooth or choppy, unpredictable or familiar.  It will alter us. If we truly engage with the season of Lent we will in some way be changed. We will have conversion of heart, recommitting ourselves to resolving to follow the way; the path of light, life, love and truth.

We cannot control the twists and turns of the journey through Lent through our will power; but through offering our hearts, our prayers, our Lenten observances and the Liturgy of the church up to God, he will work the rest in us, “for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, and ready to relent.”  

Let us join the solemn assembly,  gather the children and offer oblation and libation. Let there be fasting and repentance of our former ways;  let us all turn back to the Lord with all our hearts; let the journey begin!


Rosie Bradshaw is the National Moderator of the Third Order of Carmelites.