Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the traditional Christian period of prayer and fasting during Lent. It is traditionally a time of acknowledging our ‘sin’ – remembering those actions which harm ourselves and others (including non humans) , actions we know fall short of a moral, flourishing life.
The Ash Wednesday ritual, during which we use symbols of Earth, ashes mixed with water, remind us of the interdependence of the human with the essential elements of all life in the Earth community - that we are made of dust, that we will return to dust on this Earth and that we seek cleansing in order to restore fullness of life. For this, we are called to a time of both contemplation (prayer) and action (fasting and other acts of self-restraint).
In 2016, when Pope Francis called for an 8th Work of Mercy, “Show Mercy for our Common Home”, he described it as at the heart of a moral life, not an additional extra to the virtuous life of a Christian. He called for spiritual acts of mercy, or ‘grateful contemplation of God’s world’, which ‘allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us’ as well as active works of mercy: ‘simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness’ and ‘makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world’.” (World Day of Prayer for Creation 1 Sept 2016).
May this time of prayer and fasting, through our contemplation and acts of self-restraint in light of our unjust attitude of ‘use’ of the Earth community, be a true work of mercy this Lenten season.