A pure heart

Published on 14 Feb 2018
A pure heart create for me, O God, and establish a new spirit within me. Psalm 51. Woman sitting on a pavement lost in thought/prayer

A pure heart create for me, O God, and establish a new spirit within me.

Psalm 51

Ash Wednesday 

Joel 2:12-18

And even now (an oracle of YHWH), turn back to me with all your hearts, and with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.

And tear your hearts in pieces, not your clothes; and turn back to YHWH your God; because God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love, reluctant to cause distress. Who knows? He may turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him; meat-offering and drink-offering for YHWH your God.

Blow the trumpet in Sion; dedicate a fast; proclaim a solemn assembly; gather the people; dedicate the congregation; bring the elders together; gather the children, and the suckling infants. Let the bridegroom come out from his chamber, and the bride from her canopy.

Between the portico and the altar let the princes weep, the ministers of YHWH; and let them say, ‘Have mercy, YHWH, on your people, and do not give your inheritance to be a reproach, with the nations ruling over them: why should they say among the peoples, “where is their God”?’

And YHWH was aroused for his land, and had compassion on his people.

Psalm 51: 3-6, 12-14, 17

Have mercy on me, God, in accordance with your love.
In accordance with your abundant mercy wipe away my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity; and from my sin purify me.
For my sins I know, and my transgressions are always before me.
It is against you, you alone, that I have transgressed;
And I have done evil in your sight.
A pure heart create for me, O God, and establish a new spirit within me.
Do not send me away from your face.
And do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore joy to me the joy of your salvation.
And let a willing spirit support me.
Lord, open my lips, and let my mouth declare your praise.

2 Corinthians 5: 20-6:2

So now we are, on Christ’s behalf, ambassadors; it’s as though God was begging through us! On Christ’s behalf we implore you – be reconciled to God. Christ (who did not know sin) God made into a sin-offering on our behalf, so that we might become God’s righteousness in him.
And also, working together with God, we are begging you not to receive God’s grace in vain, for he says,
‘At the acceptable time I heard you,
And on the day of salvation I heard you’ (Isaiah 49:8)
Look! Now is the acceptable time!
Look! Now is the day of salvation!

Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18

Pay attention to your righteousness, not to do it before human beings, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in Heaven.

So – when you give to charity, don’t have a trumpet blown ahead of you, like the fake-pietists do in the synagogues and in the streets, so as to be applauded by human beings. Amen I tell you, they are getting their reward. No – when you give to charity, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your charitable giving may be done in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

And whenever you pray, you’re not to be like the fake-pietists, because they love praying, standing at street-corners, so that what they are doing may be publicised. Amen I tell you, they are getting their reward.

No – when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is in the secret places. And your Father, who can see in secret places, will repay you.

When you fast, don’t be gloomy-looking, like the false pietists. Because they disfigure their faces, so that it may be public knowledge what they are doing: ‘we’re fasting!’ Amen I tell you, they are getting their reward.

No – when you fast, have your hair done, and put on make-up, so that it may be obvious to people that you are fasting; you want it to be obvious to your Father who is in secret places; and your Father, who can see in secret places, will reward you.

Whatever else you are doing stop!

There is a sense of great urgency in the readings today. They remind us that there is absolutely no time to be wasted. God    is longing for us to remember what is truly important. Every moment that we delay robs us of the joy of a life wholly given to God. “Now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation”. Nothing is more important than to hear again the invitation to turn back. Turn away from what is not good and turn back to the God who is all tenderness and compassion.

St Ignatius urges us at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises to remember the purpose for which we are created - to “praise, reverence and serve God”. Deep down, most of us want to    live our lives centred on God. This is challenging because our lives can become so filled with work, tasks, the distractions of television and social media, that we don’t have a sense of God’s presence with us in each moment. We remember God when we go to church on a Sunday. Perhaps we even find some time in the day to pray. However, there often isn’t the sense of really being aware of God in our daily activities. Sometimes, even prayer may have taken a back-seat to the many demands on our time and energy.

And so today an invitation rings out to each of us to re-centre our lives on God. On the Google Maps mobile app there is a re-centre button we can press, when we drift off course from the route.

The map realigns with where we are on the route and reorients us. In some ways it is very similar to our spiritual journey: in the very moment that we turn back to God, truly sorry for where we have drifted off course, there is forgiveness and healing. God re- centres our hearts on him. Wherever we are.

When we are sorry, God forgives  us  instantly. Thus  begins the process of reorienting our lives, clearing the clutter, and consciously making time for this, our most important relationship.

Lent is a time to allow ourselves to turn back to God and live more fully God’s invitation to us. What is your desire this Lent? What is the gift or grace you most need from God? Every Lent is different. Sometimes we come to Lent full of energy and enthusiasm; at other times we may feel as if Lent has snuck up on us before we were quite ready for it. And yet, even if you don’t feel quite ready, the fact that you have picked up this book, affirms that God has given you a desire to enter into this graced time. As in the first reading, where everyone is summoned to take part, there is especially during Lent, the energy of the community of Christians around the world hearing the invitation. As we pray, fast, give alms and seek to be centred once again in God, we are supported by others on the same journey.

  • What grace am I seeking from God this Lent?
  • Where is God’s desire for me?
  • What needs to change for my life to be centred on God?

Scripture translation by Nick King SJ. Reflection by Nick King SJ and Annemarie Paulin-Campbell, courtesy of the Jesuit Institute South Africa.