Reflection for Ash Wednesday – 2024

Written on: February 13, 2024

Written by Sister Rita Margraff, GNSH

First Reading: Joel 2:12-18
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2
Psalm: Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

A printable version of the Lenten Reflection is here.

Once again we have come to the beginning of Lent – and this year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day both fall on February 14th. On Valentine’s Day, we send cards and buy gifts as expressions of our love for spouses, family, and friends.

The Responsorial Psalm for the liturgy of Ash Wednesday is also an expression of love.

Psalm 51, which begins Have mercy on me, O God, is a psalm attributed to David who begs God to forgive his great sin which is recounted in the Second Book of Samuel (2 Samuel 11:1 – 12:15).

But Psalm 51 is also a song of God’s love. I didn’t always think that. I was first introduced to the Psalm when I was a novice and it seemed rather mournful to me but after a course in the Psalms I came to see it differently. It is a song of love.

Have mercy on me, O God,
in your goodness, in the greatness of your compassion
wipe out my offense.

David calls on God in three ways:

  • He asks for mercy. David is totally dependent on God. He knows that he cannot save himself.

  • In your goodness. The Hebrew word for goodness is hesed, covenant love. David is appealing to God with whom he has covenant love; God has promised to be there always for David. God has made a covenant with him.

  • Compassion is a deep, inner love as the love of a mother, a mother who loves her child as part of herself. David is saying (and maybe reminding God) that he, David, is part of God’s heart. He and God are intertwined in each other. This is not a psalm of despair. David accuses himself in light of God’s love for him, not in light of retribution. He comes to God already knowing he is forgiven because he already knows he is loved.

When we come to God to ask forgiveness for whatever in our lives is not of God, we need to come to God knowing we are already forgiven.

When we know ourselves to be sinful or weak, we recognize ourselves, as did David, as someone who is helpless, someone who cannot remedy her own situation. But we also look at ourselves as being deeply intertwined in God’s life, in God’s great compassion.

God does not turn away from us as he did not turn away from David. As with David, to be aware of our sinfulness is to be aware of how much God loves us. We are part of God’s heart.

When on Ash Wednesday you receive ashes and hear the words, “Repent and believe the good news”, know that this is the good news. Do not be afraid to acknowledge your need for forgiveness, but even more importantly do not be afraid to proclaim yourself loved. Revel in the love God has for you.

A clean heart create for me,
O God, and a steadfast
spirit renew within me.

David prays for a new heart. Lent is a time to pray this psalm, to pray for a new heart, a heart that trusts the God who loves us so much, the God who never turns away from us.

Create Me Again, a song by Rory Cooney, is based on Psalm 51. You can access it here.

The refrain is:

You fashioned the heavens
You gathered the seas;
Can you create
a new heart in me?
God of compassion,
your servant has sinned.
Breathe out your Spirit,
create me again.

Happy Lent!


14 thoughts on “Reflection for Ash Wednesday – 2024

  1. Pat Mirabile says:

    Sister Rita, you clarified the true meaning of Psalm 51 by pointing out Gods’ immeasurable love, mercy and compassion for us. With your insights, you lay the perfect predicate for us to approach God seeking His forgiveness because He loves us. It is His love that gives us the assurance of His forgiveness. Thank you for paving the way for a meaningful Lenten journey. Sending you my thanks and prayers always! Pat Mirabile

  2. Joan Fitzgerald says:

    Thank you, Rita for a beautiful beginning to this Lent.

  3. Sister Eileen Spanier says:

    Very thought provoking and insightful! Thank you Rita for this reflection!

  4. Mary Looby says:

    Thanks Rita, this is a beautiful reflection for the beginning of Lent. Happy are we when we recognize our need for God.

  5. Mary Looby says:

    Thanks so much, Rita. This is a beautiful reflection inviting us to recognize our need for God in our lives.

  6. Mary Pfeiffer says:

    Beautiful reflection Sr. Rita. Thanks very much for sharing your insight and may this season of Lent be a beautiful one for you and all of the Grey Nuns.

  7. Joan Wasilewski says:

    Thank-you Sr.Rita the reading is a wonderful
    way to start the Lenten season. God is good
    to us we all have to remember is love.
    Happy Valentines Day and Lenten journey

    Joan Judith

  8. Barbara Schiavoni says:

    Thank you for breaking open Psalm 51 in such a meaningful way Rita. Your reflection is a beautiful way to start Lent.

  9. Janet V. Pape says:

    Rita,thank you…beautiful sentiments to frame the Lenten journey…I hear some Richard Rohr in your thoughts….enjoy the journey! Janet

  10. Karen Morinelli says:

    Thank you Sister Rita. What a beautiful reflection for Valentine’s Day and the Lenten Season.

  11. Dotty Fox Claar says:

    Thank you Sr. Rita for such a beautiful reflection and the reminder of the tender mercy our savior has for each of us.

  12. Victoria Christopher says:

    An awesome reflection, Sr. Rita. Thank you.
    Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Lent, my friend.

    Vickie Christopher

    PS. Please keep me in your prayers. It’s been 1 year (Feb 13, 2023) since my sister passed.
    I miss her so much.

  13. Diane Bardol says:

    Rita. Your reflection is a perfect penitential rite for Lenten liturgies. Thank you.

  14. Sr. Maria Christi says:

    A Beautiful reflection Rita.

    Thank you for sharing the spirit of Valentine & the Lenten Season of which we are about to enter into.

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