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Ash Wednesday

February 22, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today we invite you to explore, with liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, the radical Lenten calling to prepare for God by becoming real neighbors to one another; to engage the concepts of Catholic social teaching, the seamless garment, and Pope Francis’s words as they support this radical neighboring; and embody neighboring with the help of Winona LaDuke and migrant and mutual aid organizers.

Commentary by Ben Stegbauer and Tess Gallagher Clancy

Ash Wednesday

Reading 1

Joel 2:12-18

Even now — it is YHWH who speaks —
return to me with your whole heart,
fasting, weeping, mourning.
Rend your hearts, not your garments.
Return to YHWH, your God,
who is gracious and merciful,
and ready to forgive.
Who knows ? YHWH may come back, relent,
and leave a blessing behind —
grain and drink offerings
for YHWH, your God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion!
Proclaim a fast,
call a solemn assembly;
gather the people,
summon the community;
assemble the elders,
and gather the children, even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his bedroom
and the bride her canopied bed.
Let the priests, YHWH’s ministers,
stand weeping between the portico and the altar.
and say, “Spare Your people, YHWH!
Do not make your heritage a thing of shame,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the nations,
‘Where is their God?’ ”
Then YHWH will be stirred on behalf of the land,
and will take pity on the people.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 51

Response: Have mercy, O God, in Your goodness.

Have mercy on me, O God, in Your goodness, / in Your great tenderness wipe away my faults;
Wash me clean of my guilt, / purify me from my sin.
R: Have mercy, O God, in Your goodness.

For I am well aware of my faults, / I have my sin constantly in mind,
Having sinned against none other than You, / having done what You regard as wrong.
R: Have mercy, O God, in Your goodness.

God, create a clean heart in me, / put into me a new and constant spirit,.
Do not banish me from Your presence, / do not deprive me of Your Holy Spirit.
R: Have mercy, O God, in Your goodness.

Be my savior again, renew my joy, / keep my spirit steady and willing;
Open my lips, / and my mouth will speak out Your praise.
R: Have mercy, O God, in Your goodness.

Reading 2

2 Corinthians 5:20 — 6:2

We are Christ’s ambassadors,
as though God were making the appeal directly through us.
Therefore we implore you in Christ’s name: be reconciled to God.
For our sake, God made the One who was without sin to be sin,
so that by this means we might become the very holiness of God.

As Christ’s co-workers we beg you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For God says through Isaiah,
“At the acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.”
Now is the acceptable time!
Now is the day of salvation!


Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

Jesus said to the disciples,
“Beware of practicing your piety before others to attract their attention;
if you do this, you will have no reward from your Abba God in heaven.
“When you do acts of charity, for example,
do not have it trumpeted before you;
that is what hypocrites do in the synagogues and the streets,
that they may be praised by others.
The truth is, they have already received their reward in full.
But when you do acts of charity,
do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing;
your good deeds must be in secret,
and your Abba God — who sees all that is done in secret —  will repay you.

“And when you pray, do not behave like the hypocrites;
they love to pray standing up in the synagogues
and on street corners for people to see them.
The truth is, they have received their reward in full.
But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door,
and pray to God who is in that secret place,
and your Abba God — who sees all that is done in secret — will reward you.

“And when you fast, do not look depressed like the hypocrites.
They deliberately neglect their appearance
to let everyone know that they are fasting.
The truth is, they have already received their reward.
But when you fast, brush your hair and wash your face.
Do not let anyone know you are fasting except your Abba God,
who sees all that is done in secret.
And Abba God — who sees all that is done in secret — will reward you.”

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



Let us make neighbors with all peoples and persons

The readings for today seem to be asking us to prepare ourselves for the time to come. We are to prepare in this season with fasting, with mourning, with prayer, and with reconciliation. These directions all seem to have a temporal aspect to them. We are preparing ourselves, through time, for something, for the moment to come, for the kairos, the time of action. What does it mean to be prepared? In my experience growing up Catholic, that term, preparation, was always put to the singular person and pushed toward the area of sin. The preparation time of Lent was for the preparation time of your soul, for the second coming. Lent was a time to rid yourself of your worst habits. Looking back, not only do I now realize that the parts of myself I was told to get rid of (sexuality, empowerment, plain old desire) are actually beautiful expressions of divine love, but also that none of these were actually preparing me for the time to come here on Earth.

As I grew older, and came into more contact with liberatory Catholic and political groups, I came to see this lenten preparation differently. Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez guided and encouraged me to go deeper down these paths. I recently came across his short essay “The Hermeneutic of Hope,” and I found myself reflecting on the ways in which my preparation for the time to come was always individualized. I was trying to get myself ready, and even when I pushed that preparation towards liberative goals, I was still individualizing them. For example, I vowed to become more educated on queer issues in the legislature, read more working class history, get more confidence to talk to people at book readings, etc. But in his essay, Gutiérrez talks about making neighbors with people. He says,“When we approach other persons, we are meeting neighbors; we are converting a person to neighbor, and I become, myself, the neighbor of this person” (8).

Now, I know that the concept of a neighbor is easy to turn into nothing but an idea, a nice thing to think about, however vaguely. But for Gutiérrez, and all other liberation theologians, this concept of a neighbor is a material reality. It is a reality of living with others and welcoming others in as neighbors – and through trust and relationship – allowing ourselves to be converted into neighbors, too. This is the preferential option for the poor, where communities of neighbors are created together to fight against the grave injustice and evil of poverty. After all, it is organized communities that we need to fight against the vastness of evils such as poverty. This includes the vastness of other evils, too, such as fossil fuel extraction, immoral and ruthless immigration laws, patriarchal abuse, white supremacy, and many others. While these evils are huge, and have created complicated systems, they are dismantled through real, organized communities of neighbors. As the world decomposes around us, we do not need more self control, or to rid ourselves of bad habits – we need neighbors. 

So, for Lent this year, let us reflect on the ways in which we are neighboring to those around us, and especially to those oppressed by the systems of power in our society. Let us turn our lenten preparation to the suffering in the world, and the unraveling of society we see around us, and let us seek out neighbors to face these realities together. Let us make neighbors with all peoples and persons. May we finally realize that in order to become neighbors with someone else, we are participating in the vulnerable act of allowing ourselves to be changed. This act of allowing ourselves to change, and participating in changing power structures, is vital. If we still try to become neighbors through the capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal, and homophobic landscapes we function within, we will just replicate those evils in our attempts at neighboring. Let us be transformed this Lent, indeed! Yes, this is the preparation that we need to be doing. This is the blowing of the trumpet in Zion from the first reading from Joel. This is the preparation for the anointed time that will bring upon salvation, spoken about in the second reading from 2 Corinthians.

“Behold now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 

Commentary by Ben Stegbauer and Tess Gallagher Clancy

Ben Stegbauer and Tess Gallagher Clancy met in divinity school. Ben is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, the greatest city in the world. He now lives in New York City at the Catholic Worker. Tess was born and raised in western Montana on Salish land, in an Irish American family. She thinks a lot about land, place, belonging, and labor.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching


To continue down this lenten road, we can turn to Pope Francis and his thoughts on being a neighbor. In a homily for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, he says that, “Loving our neighbor as ourselves means being firmly committed to building a more just world, in which everyone has access to the goods of the earth, in which all can develop as individuals and as families, and in which fundamental rights and dignity are guaranteed to all.” What I hope becomes apparent from liberation theology, and Francis’s engagement with it, is the reality that the only way we make this “just world” is by making neighbors with the oppressed and becoming a neighbor to them. This is the framework we need to be actively working within. 

If you scroll through the seven themes of Catholic social teaching with a liberatory lens, as well as with the neighbor in mind, it becomes clear that these themes are only able to be accomplished when we all achieve them together. Our responsibility to each other pushes us to believe in each other, and to see a new way forward for us all. Our struggles are incredibly intertwined, which of course is the root of the Catholic “seamless garment,” or the idea that all injustices are entangled and interrelated, as it is not easy to pick out the single thread of one – but instead that they must be destroyed all together. To me, these core principles, the idea of the seamless garment, and the work of Gustavo Gutiérrez and Pope Francis, prove that Catholic social teaching in and of itself relies on this neighboring, as discussed above. The two-way street of being neighbors becomes vital for the work of liberation. We need to simultaneously treat people with dignity, and demand that society as a whole does the same. And the way we do this is by turning ourselves into neighbors.  


A Contemplative Exercise

Take a moment to think about being neighbors with people who you don’t understand; people who make you feel uncomfortable; people with different tastes, desires, and priorities than you. Think about how you would interact with them. Think about the power dynamics between yourself and them. Be very honest. It’s likely that these dynamics are unequal in some way. It’s very possible that you have more power in the dynamics than you realize you do.

What does your neighborhood or community need to do to allow more horizontal interaction between neighbors, the ability to meet each other on more equal terms? What power do people enter into interactions with or without? How does this shape the ability of all members of the community to have autonomy, self-determination, and respect? What makes you feel respected? 

Whatever the answers to these questions are, do you show those same things to your neighbor? How might they feel respect and autonomy in ways that are different from you? Is there a way you could ask your neighbors and community members how they best feel respected and valued?

A Witness

Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke is an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) organizer, and community leader. She has spent her life making neighbors with the people around her, preparing them for the future, and asking settler communities to be neighbors to the Indigenous people whose lands they live on.

Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke

LaDuke’s work focuses on moving into a new world, with a just economy to support it. Her projects include the White Earth Land Recovery Project, with branches that include food sovereignty and access to traditional foods for Native people, and reclaiming pieces of land stolen from the Anishinaabe. She also founded 8th Fire Solar, an Anishnaabe-run solar panel company; Winona’s Hemp and and Heritage Farm, growers and manufacturers of hemp products and Indigenous foods; and co-founded Honor the Earth, doing Indigenous and environmental advocacy.

In addition to this economic and community work, LaDuke has spent the better part of the last decade opposing Canadian oil company Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, which creates a new pipeline corridor through delicate wetlands and ecosystems that the Anishnaabe rely on, as well as cutting under the Mississippi River. 

A tireless advocate, not only for the community she has made, but also for all people’s wellbeing, LaDuke’s great neighboring can be summed up in this quote from the 8th Fire Solar website:

According to Anishinaabe prophecies, we are in the time of the Seventh Fire. At this time…we have a choice between a path that is well-worn and scorched, and a path that is green and unworn. If we move toward the green path, the Eighth Fire will be lit and people will come together to make a better future.  

A Community

Red Hook Mutual Aid

On the 29th of January 2023, a group of migrant asylum seekers who had been staying in the Watson Hotel near New York City’s Columbus Circle started to be evicted from their city-allotted rooms. The only option they were left with was to take a bus to the Red Hook Ferry Terminal, where the heat barely worked and the city had set up hundreds of cots, placed three feet apart from each other. 

Seeing the conditions, some migrants got right back on the bus and went back to the Watson Hotel. They shared videos of the ferry terminal, and began to organize together. They became neighbors to each other. These were men who had only met each other recently, but all through their shared journey of migration, had empowered each other to demand better and just conditions that the city was content not to provide. They decided to sleep outside the Watson Hotel in protest. Mutual aid groups from around the city helped to provide warm food, warm clothes, and other cold weather gear as needed. It became a lively section of the street. The group of migrant men would often gather to make collective and consensus decisions, and then would break out into a chant in Spanish, roughly translated as “we stay here.” 

While the NYPD eventually conducted a sweep, forcing the men to leave, the migrant men radically displayed the possibilities of neighboring, and what collective action can provide. 

Read more about the situation in NYC here:

Donate to Red Hook Mutual Aid here to help ensure migrants have access to needed clothes and other essential items: