An Ash Wednesday Reflection

By Clement Harrold

Reading I: Joel 2:12–18  

Psalm: 51:3–4, 5–6ab, 12–13, 14 and 17  

Reading II: 2 Corinthians 5:20–6:2  

Gospel: Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18 


Here at the beginning of our Lenten journey, Holy Mother Church pulls no punches. 

In the first reading from the prophet Joel, the people of God are told to put aside what they are doing and assemble together in repentance. In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us of the hope and salvation which Jesus Christ has brought. In the Gospel reading, that same Jesus Christ invites and challenges each one of us to embrace the Christian ideal, by almsgiving, prayer, and fasting—the three pillars of Lent.  

The key to unlocking this Gospel lies in the first reading: “Tear your hearts, and not your garments . . .” (Joel 2:13). This is the interpretive key which beats like a quiet but continuous drumbeat throughout the entire Old Testament. The whole law, the prophets, the Incarnation, and the Cross, our almsgiving, our prayer, our fasting—all of these are ultimately about one thing: allowing God to win over our hearts.  

Just as the Israelites were forced to wander in the desert for forty years, and just as Jesus went out for forty days before beginning His ministry, so too we should see these next forty days as an occasion for enormous spiritual growth. Let us pray for the grace to have our hearts purified, renewed, and set afire this Lent.  


What practical steps shall I take to grow in almsgiving, prayer, and fasting this Lent? What goals am I setting, and how can I push myself while also remaining realistic?  

Journey Through Lent

Register for the St. Paul Center's Free Lenten Streaming and also receive a FREE bonus PDF booklet of daily reflections on the Mass readings, “Journey Through Lent.” Spend each day of Lent with the Scriptures and get free video reflections from Scott Hahn.