Beginning of the Path: Reflections on Ash Wednesday

by | Feb 14, 2024 | Formation, Reflections

“Create in me, O God, a pure heart,
renew in me a steadfast spirit.
Do not repel me from your presence
and do not deprive me of your holy spirit”
(Ps 50[51]:12-13).

Ash Wednesday begins Lent, bringing with it an invitation to reflection and inner renewal. This holy day reminds the missionaries of the Congregation of the Mission of the importance of meditating on life and drawing closer to God through conversion of heart. Ash Wednesday and the use of ashes symbolise the fragility and transience of human life, reminding us “that we are dust and to dust we shall return”. This practice serves as a powerful call to conversion and spiritual purification. The ashes, obtained by burning palms blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year, are a symbol of penance and renewal of the heart, inviting the faithful to reflect on mortality and the need to draw closer to God, beginning a journey of reconciliation and spiritual growth during Lent.


The Legacy of St. Vincent de Paul: Humility and Service

St Vincent de Paul is an emblematic figure for missionaries. His life, dedicated to the service of the less fortunate, perfectly embodies the spirit of Ash Wednesday. Missionaries are invited to follow his example, renewing their commitment to charity and service. His vision was that of an active Church, a community that did not just celebrate sacred rites, but went out among people, sharing daily challenges with them and bringing the light of the Gospel even to the darkest places. This innovative approach was not just a way to deal with immediate emergencies, but a long-term strategy to establish a virtuous cycle of support, education and improved living conditions.

In the context of Ash Wednesday, the example of St. Vincent de Paul inspires us to look beyond our immediate needs, to recognise the importance of inner conversion and selfless service. His work and teaching remind us that true Lent begins in the heart of each of us, in the recognition of our weaknesses and the willingness to turn them into strengths to help those in need.

Spiritual Rebirth: The Core of Lent with Biblical Foundations

Lent, with its roots in Ash Wednesday, is a period dedicated to reflection and spiritual rebirth, deeply rooted in biblical principles. In the book of Jonah (3:5-10), we see how the inhabitants of Nineveh respond to the call to repentance by fasting and wearing sackcloth, an ancient practice of humility and penance. In Matthew (6:16-18), Jesus teaches the importance of sincere fasting, not out of ostentation, but as a genuine expression of an inner quest and a deeper relationship with God. These biblical references underline the importance of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten period as a time for personal reflection and spiritual transformation.

Way of Conversion: Beyond the Individual

Ash Wednesday and the Lenten period that follows offer an opportunity for conversion that is not limited to the individual, but extends to the whole community. Missionaries are called to be light in a world often marked by suffering, bringing hope and comfort in the name of St Vincent de Paul.

In reflection and prayer, missionaries are called to rediscover the radical nature of the Gospel that St Vincent de Paul lived and witnessed. The simplicity of his lifestyle and his total dedication to the poor are a constant call to a conversion that does not only concern the individual, but extends to the community, the Church and the whole world.

Renewal and Witness

Ash Wednesday is much more than a liturgical beginning; it represents an invitation to live intensely the charism of St Vincent. For the missionaries of the Congregation, it is a time to reaffirm their commitment to be witnesses of a hardworking faith, illuminating the path of those in need with gestures of authentic charity. The need for an authentic conversion of the heart draws attention to the pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are not mere outward acts, but profound expressions of a desire to draw closer to God and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need. In this context, the Congregation of the Mission is called to live these values even more intensely, following in the footsteps of our founder.

Girolamo Grammatico
Office of Communication