An Ash Wednesday reflection from Archbishop Sartain

Photo: Ahna Ziegler/Unsplash Photo: Ahna Ziegler/Unsplash

At moments of introspection or struggle, we can be both grateful and befuddled: grateful for all God has given us and befuddled at those aspects of our lives that confuse or embarrass us.

We have a sneaking suspicion that the key to self-understanding is deep within, in a secret place only God fully understands. We long to plumb our personal depths and give ourselves more fully to God. As the psalmist prayed, “In the secret of my heart, teach me wisdom” (51:8).

Today we start the Church’s penitential season, when we examine our consciences to uncover those ways in which we have allowed our lives to turn away from God and toward — and perhaps into — sin. For the Christian, repentance is always a good thing, an act of hope. That’s because we know that our sin is not the end of things, the final verdict on our lives. We know that God is rich in mercy, and he constantly calls us to turn toward him with a penitent heart — so that he can pour his mercy, his forgiveness, upon us. God never excludes anyone from his offer of forgiveness, and he longs for us to accept it.

Jesus says that our Father “sees in secret.” Does he mean that his Father is always spying on us, ready to catch us at some transgression? To the contrary, he is reminding us that God loves us to the core of our being, from the tips of our toes to the deepest recesses of our hearts. He knows all too well that we tend to live on the surface and seek affirmation there. He calls us to something deeper.

When we give alms, pray, and fast, we are to do so quietly, humbly, anonymously — because in doing so we go out from ourselves and deep within, where his Father lovingly awaits us.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

Send your prayer intentions to Archbishop Sartain’s Prayer List, Archdiocese of Seattle, 710 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.