A woman kneels in prayer during Mass on Ash Wednesday 2020 in 
St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Mike Ehrmann photo
A woman kneels in prayer during Mass on Ash Wednesday 2020 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Mike Ehrmann photo
Gospel Reflection for Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021

We begin our Lenten journey amid the global pandemic, and we are reminded that it was during the last Lent when all of this got started. While the Lenten season takes us into the wilderness where we can hopefully reflect more deeply and strive to bring about some conversion and correction to our lives, this Lent already seems to be different, perhaps more intense.

We have, over the past year, experienced life in different and peculiar ways.  In addition to dealing with the stress and anxiety that the pandemic has caused, there have also been some positive side effects resulting from the pandemic protocols. As we begin our Lenten journey and take assessment of our lives and our relationship with the Lord, we are reminded that the Lord is calling us to redemption, to set aside our sinfulness, pettiness and selfishness and to instead focus on him. He challenges us to set things right with him and certainly also with one another.

The Gospel passage for this Ash Wednesday calls us to do almost exactly the opposite of what we are accustomed to doing on Ash Wednesday. Yes, we are embarking on a season of fasting and abstinence, and while many of us might feel that it has already been a yearlong fast from the ordinary ways in which we enjoy life with family, friends and coworkers, this year it is quite different. We are called to set aside the many hurtful, petty and selfish ways we have responded to this time in our lives and to the people who are important to us. Many of us are not dealing with our frustrations well, and the scowls on our faces are shielded by the masks we wear in public.

Jesus is inviting us to accept the challenges of the moment. He wants us not to see this as a time of condemnation and gloom, but as an invitation to grow deeper in our relationship with him, with his Church and with one another as brothers and sisters bound together in love. This time has seen some of us at our best and has also seen some of us at our worst. The Lord calls us, not to wear a false front of fasting, gloom and penitence, but to live a life of penance and fasting with grace and dignity.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.