Come back to me with all your heart

Our reflection for Ash Wednesday is written by Sr Mary Owens, executive director of Nyumbani, Children of God Relief Institute, in Kenya.


“Come back to me with all your heart…

Turn to your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion,

slow to anger, rich in graciousness.” Joel 2:12-13


What a reassuring and compelling invitation from the First Reading on Ash Wednesday!

The words of the hymn, ‘Come back to me with all your heart, don’t let fear keep us apart’, adds to this invitation. How can we not respond to God this Lent with ready openness to review our way of living as other Christs in the world today?

On World Day for Peace, 2017, Pope Francis challenged us to “cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values”. Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I seek to practise the non-violence of Jesus. What is the violence in my heart? Maybe I am inclined to deny that I have any tendencies to violence; small failures, yes, but not violence. Earlier, in my own protected style of living, this was my stance. Then my horizons broadened to a world dimension and I was faced with world leaders’ decisions to go to war, the realities of humans torturing and killing other humans, people needlessly dying of starvation, children left behind to fend for themselves, bewildered and helpless. Now anger and desire for violent action can well in my heart and I am challenged not to retaliate, to strive for peace in my heart and to do what I can to help others who are deprived of their rights: the right to life, basic nutrition, shelter, healthcare, basic education, equality and freedom from discrimination, human dignity.

Another area in our lives we may be invited to review is our prejudices. As we know, humans tend to resort to prejudice as a result of fear, ignorance, and helplessness in the face of some life situations. Throughout the history of humankind, classic situations leading to prejudice have been racial, ethnic, and religious differences, and these challenges still exist. Am I called to repentance this Lent in any of these areas? As societies evolve, new challenges present themselves: gender discrimination, people forced to migrate from their land of origin, human trafficking, on-going degradation of the environment. Where is my heart regarding these areas? Or do I close myself off from them? Do I need to review my attitudes and seek reconciliation for not having the mind that was in Christ Jesus?

For those of us in HIV-related service, we are faced each day with the injustice of stigma that persons living with HIV experience. In nearly 35 years since HIV was identified, our world has not yet understood that HIV is simply a condition like any other chronic medical condition. Sadly, the confidentiality surrounding HIV status carries its own challenge. The insecurity and emotional vulnerability experienced by people living with HIV as a result of this secrecy, together with the knowledge that disclosure may mean being stigmatised, can deprive them of their right to live with freedom and dignity. Have I eradicated stigma directed at people living with HIV, who equally reflect God’s image as I do? A particularly vulnerable group is children with perinatally acquired HIV who are often left as orphans, many of whom are now reaching adolescence and young adulthood. How do I welcome them, who have the resilience to be open about their status, into my community? Do I advocate for universal access to care and treatment including psychosocial services for all persons living with HIV?

As we look at our personal attitudes and lifestyles, which may be calling for review as followers of Jesus, Jesus who challenged all forms of injustice, let us not only seek reconciliation in areas where we have failed but also resolve to take action to help eradicate injustices in our community.

To read this reflection in French please go here: Revenez à moi avec de tout votre cœur 

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About AJAN

Jesuits across sub-Saharan Africa reach out daily to people affected by AIDS and seek to prevent the spread of HIV. The African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) coordinates their efforts, inspired by the vision: Empowered individuals, families, and communities working towards an HIV and AIDS free society and fullness of life (cfr John 10:10)