We read in Joel (2:12-28), the proclamation of God’s mercy and the offer of hope that God will relent. Joel tells us that even amidst crises and amidst our infidelity, God invites us to return to Him with our whole heart, to be converted (cf. Jl 2:12-13). We know that God does indeed relent and extend his mercy and forgiveness to all who believe in and receive Jesus. He is true to what the prophets proclaim: He is slow to anger and rich in kindness.
Today, we too must recognize that we all are ambassadors of Christ who invite all to “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). On Ash Wednesday, the so-called “Ashes and Palms” Catholics come out in huge numbers, providing us a golden opportunity to evangelize them. We may be tempted to look down on such believers for only worshipping occasionally, but if we take this holy day and its readings seriously, then we cannot complain or judge. Now is the day of salvation for all of us (2 Cor 6:2); so as we strive to be reconciled and converted to God, we should also invite “Ashes and Palms” Catholics and lapsed Catholics to do the same.
Everyone is in need of God’s mercy. Everyone needs to be converted. The verse before the Gospel tells devout and lapsed Catholics alike: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Ps 95:8). On Ash Wednesday, we are invited to be attentive to God’s offer of mercy to all of us, to receive God’s mercy and to proclaim it to each other.