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If not now, when?

Entrance Antiphon: Wis 11:24, 25, 27 —“You are merciful to all, O Lord, and despise nothing that You have made. You overlook people’s sins, to bring them to repentance, and You spare them, for You are the Lord our God.”

First Reading: Jl 2:12-18 — “Rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14, 17 — “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”

Second Reading: 2 Cor 5:20-6:2 — “Be reconciled to God. Behold, now is the acceptable time.”

Alleluia: Ps 95:8 — “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

Gospel: Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 —“Your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Communion Antiphon: Ps 1:2-3 — “He who ponders the law of the Lord day and night will yield fruit in due season.”

Very few of us live without regrets of some kind or another … and there are some people who have more regrets than others. We often berate ourselves for not doing something we should have done or for having done something we shouldn’t have. “If only” is not uncommon in our thoughts and in our speech. Our inability to stay in the “now” … in the present … has spawned an industry of books, CDs, DVDs, blogs, workshops, etc. … all geared to help us live in the present, to be attentive to what is before us. We are told there is power in the pause … in the now.

It’s Lent again, and we hear the familiar refrain of today’s readings: If not now, when? In a little while, you will come forward to receive the ashes on your forehead and to hear the words, “Turn away from sin, and believe in the Gospel.” As I believe I've told you before, the Hebrew word for that expresses that sentiment is “shub” … to do a 180 … to turn back to God. And the question remains … If not now, when?

We hear again from the prophet Joel, telling Israel that they must repent of their sins and turn again to God for they have been faithless. One more time, they are reminded that their God “even now” invites their return to him if they come weeping and fasting and mourning. Even after their having forgotten him, he will take pity and have mercy.

Will we let Saint Paul’s clarion call fall on deaf ears? “Now is the acceptable time” to return to God … now is the acceptable time to be reconciled to Him and His people and to live as a people saved by Christ.

Just exactly how do we do that? If you listened carefully, the Gospel spells it out: Pray daily with attentiveness … take action for the poor … and do deeds of compassion. Avoid whatever distracts us from the one thing necessary: God. So, on this Ash Wednesday it becomes necessary to reflect on the following questions: Will this Lenten experience change us? Will this sacred pause to ponder God’s great love and gift in Jesus deepen our conversion? If not now, when?

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