If you are active in the daytime Liturgy of the Hours, this Ash Wednesday reading may be familiar to you. Otherwise, you may need to pay attention at a summertime Saturday morning Mass every other year*.
Repent and turn from all your transgressions;
otherwise iniquity will be your ruin.
Cast away from you all the transgressions
that you have committed against me,
and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!
Why will you die, O house of Israel?
For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,
says the Lord God.
Turn, then, and live.
New heart and new spirit appears in another Ezekiel passage, the more frequently heard 36:24-28 (involving our stony hearts). God’s accusation is that we’ve become hardened and willful. Remember, to the ancient Jews, the heart is seen as the source of the will. When you read about hearts of stone in the Bible, it’s likely more about our conscious human decision-making. Not about love.
When God urges a new heart, the Bible would suggest a new commitment, a new decision must be made. Ash Wednesday is about making a conscious decision. For the modern Christian, fasting, taking time to pray, and giving alms. These aren’t necessarily the motivations of love. They involve a commitment of the will.
The prophet communicates the Lord’s simple command in this passage, “turn.” It doesn’t have much to do with emotion. It is a matter of personal decision. This is what the Bible, the season of Lent, and the Lord Jesus’ invitation is all about.
*Year 2 on the Saturday of the 19th week of Ordinary Time