Ash Wednesday: Time to Stop & Pay Attention
BY SR. NORMA PIMENTEL, M.J. | February 22, 2023
“My heart stopped,” said a mother, when she found out there had been a shooting at her son’s school. A six-year-old student shot and wounded a teacher. A six-year-old child—how is this possible?
It breaks my heart that we have come to this point where a child would use a gun to hurt another person. It pains me deeply that any human being, no matter the age, could do this. In January, there were 39 mass shootings within the first 24 days. With all the shootings taking place, our hearts must stop and take notice of the seriousness of these tragedies occurring in our communities today.
Lent—when we recall the passion of Christ—is a time for atonement and introspection to examine ourselves and all that surrounds us. As we begin this holy season, it may be a time for our own hearts to stop for a moment to take notice of how we are living our faith, to notice the needs of the families and others in our communities—and particularly of our children.
Children are precious gifts. Let’s treat them as such. Remember, they are being formed by the examples we model for them. They are counting on us to care for them and to guide them. They need our attention.
Every day, I see mothers who leave everything behind to come to the United States in search of something better for their children. What are the things we can leave behind this Lent and in the days that follow so that we can pay more attention to our children and others in the community? How much time do we spend distracted on mobile devices? How many TikTok videos are we scrolling though that leave us empty and rob us of our time? What violence are our children exposed to everyday on television and on video games?
Ask yourself—what can I do? How is my faith present to others? Do I make time for others? Does it help bring peace and love to my family and others in my community? Does my faith bring out patience, understanding, care, and compassion? Am I a loving example that others can follow?
If our communities are going to heal, it must start with each one of us modeling for our children—and each other—the virtues of our faith.
- In the chaos of our world—particularly seen through the eyes of children and young people impacted by the world’s violence—where do you find God?
- How can you be more attentive to God’s presence in the chaos, to be present to and attend to the needs of those on the margins, and to the work of justice?
- In what ways, during this Lenten season, can you bring peace, love, patience, understanding, care, compassion, and justice to help heal the world around you?
Sr. Norma Pimentel, M.J., a sister with the Missionaries of Jesus, is the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She oversees the charitable arm of the Diocese of Brownsville, providing oversight of different ministries and services in the Rio Grande Valley through emergency assistance, homelessness prevention, disaster relief, clinical counseling, pregnancy care, food programs, and humanitarian relief to immigrants.
Thank you. It help me to begin this way of lent
Thank you for Sr. Norma Pimentel’s Ash Wednesday reflection. I found it helpful. BUT, please lower the level of the music playing all during the reflection – the music was loud enough to interfere with my hearing of what Sr. Pimentel was saying. If you must have music in the background, please lower its level and take care to ensure it does not impede our ability to hear what the speaker is saying. May this Lent prove to be a spiritually enriching time for all of us…
I would say that six year old who shot his teacher along with most (not all) of the mass shootings obtained the gun by people who legally have guns but aren’t responsible enough to keep them safely locked up. I know from experience as a twelve year old alter boy I held up a 7:11 with a loaded gun I stumbled across while trying to swipe cigarettes from my uncle’s house. I thank God with all my heart that I didn’t hurt anyone and that I didn’t blow my brains out as I originally planned when I stole the gun. I feel more bad for what that six year old will go through for all his life even more than the teacher he shot.
Where do I find God amidst the chaos? Making soup, in the kitchen for a sick friend – uttering pleas for healing and comfort, not only for my friend, but for our World. Hoping this gesture, generated through Grace, will make a difference.
I have a 13 year old son.
It feels impossible to control his media use.
How do I surround him with so much love and peace
That it overcomes the darkness?
I find it ironic that your asking us to spend less time on social media sites but I’m reading this reflection via social media. 😂 I’m 79 years old and I keep in touch via social media because that’s how my grown children and grandchildren communicate.
Maybe we need to adjust our watching of news channels that don’t share the values of our progressive Catholic values. We have one political party that won’t address the gun problem we have in our country, they want to cut back on social programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Food Stamps for the poor. I never hear these values being spoken from the pulpit at Mass. Especially about the politicians that profess rugged individualism professing policies like, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too!” That’s heresy pure and simple.
How bout a fair tax policy, calling for workers rights to form and join a labor union? I have never heard a homilist at Mass talk about Rerum Novarum. Why not? How bout the real values of being Pro Life in areas like Capital Punishment, Sexual, Physical and Mental Abuse, freedom to vote without Jim Crow type laws? I find it unconscionable that states are passing laws to make it a crime to give a voter standing in line to vote a bottle of water or a snack to eat. We have political parties that are in power eliminating voting sites in lower income areas but not in higher income areas. We can’t be preaching about the stock market investments and not the super market investments especially in the poorer areas of our cities.
As I understand from Vatican II lent is not a time but a place where we meet the risen Lord and love or brothers and sisters who are less fortunate than our selves. I suppose its time we all walk down the road to Emmaus and meet the risen Lord. Peace and Shalom.
Thank you for your thoughts and your beliefs. I agree with all you said. Now this Lent I will pray over ways I can convert these thoughts into action. Thank you again.
In the midst of our chaotic society I can take the advice of Pope Francis to listen, carefully and deeply with an open heart and mind, to my loved ones first of all, and also to whomever I encounter throughout the day. Listening is a gift that requires a focus on the other, and takes the focus away from my preconceived attitudes about the other, and sees them in God’s perspective as fellow sojourners on this earth on our way toward eternal life.
I appreciate what you say here. There is too much “taking sides” going on instead of allowing that another view may teach us something. Thank you for your insight.
Yesterday I got a phone call from a Catholic organization called CHALICE whose office is situated in eastern Canada. I had adopted two foster children many years ago, one from India, and one from Chile, and I found out yesterday that my child from India would be retiring from the program.
So I very nonchalantly went to their website — chalice.ca
to select another child to foster, not realizing what a daunting task that would be trying to scroll through pages and pages of little faces that needed support. One of the big concerns for all of them was their parents or guardians trying to get them a decent education because they all knew that that was one way that they might be able to crawl out of their poverty.
Since I am unable to adopt all of them as my own, I am compelled to somehow find a way to encourage people in my circle of friends and family to adopt some of these children so that they can enjoy the benefits of decent healthcare and an adequate education.
I certainly never expected this to be the beginning of my Lenten journey..
I am praying for guidance and help in this.
Certainly, to care for all people, especially the Children and the vulnerable ones, sensing that they might expose to all forms of abuse and violence if nobody cares for them, is equivalent to forgetting me and forsaking God. Denying their futures, denying Christ. I’m praying that what is lacking in us parents and the community around the children God can fill us with His love and Grace.
Peace to everyone reading this.
My 10 yr old son is on school vacation this week and he is enjoying an outdoor day camp while I work. We are fortunate to have the means to send him.
I pray for families who do not have the means as raising children is a hard task. I pray for less judgment. As father Greg Boyle, one of my heroes says, maybe we help those whose burden is more than they can bear.
I also donate to catholic schools as I believe a gift of catholic education – learning to know God – can save a family’s life.
At times it feels as if I live in a cocoon. Although I am president of a Catholic high school and am always promoting Christian service, prayer, faith put into action etc. I struggle to break out of my own protective cocoon to put my faith into action. My prayer today is to spend time with Jesus and to ask for the grace to break free from whatever holds me back from loving Him by loving and serving others.
By seeing the goodness in America and balancing what the news says.
So many ways to help one person or one family. I choose to help with refugee resettlement in my area, driving to ESL classes or doctor appointments, visiting even though we don’t speak the same language except the language of loving-care, being present, getting to know someone with a different perspective than mine, it all helps them AND me. When people ask me why I choose to help “those people”, I respond that there are many people who need help, so just pick one.
I believe that God is with the children & all who are caught up in the chaos.He has not abandoned them, but is entrenched with & in them. His presence is witnessed in the helpers – those who are providing care, comfort, hope, & love. God invites us to join Him in the midst of the suffering & chaos – through prayer, by increasing our awareness of those in need & of our responsibility, & by using our skills & resources to help others.
I think I can start by really paying attention and listening to all the people I encounter daily, especially the children, my children. How can I respond in such a way to show love, understanding, compassion and in a Christ-like way. Actually, I have an adult daughter still living at home with us who could use me to be more present for her and that is one of my focuses for Lent, to improve as a sympathetic, non-judgmental listener.
I try by adopting. I have 93 year old friend who I help out with whatever she needs, shopping, driving, just sitting and talking. And I have a young family with a toddler now who I try and give a break to once a week. If everybody would just help one other we could make a real difference. Now I just have to work at responding with joy to the requests made of me.
When I was in despair, I fervently prayed to God, “Abba, Father, make me in your image, remove all that is false from me.” I felt God’s Holy Spirit of tender, delightful best-friend love nestling next to me and then entering into me. Since that day, April 30, 1990, my daily challenge has been to daily meditate and remember the inner felt sense of God’s love, listening, keeping my opinions to myself, reflecting, feeling tensions- conflict. And to my surprise I understand the words to speak and the action to take.
I deal with the chaos through prayer and activism. I sign petitions and walk for sensible gun laws. I sign petitions to end the death penalty. A bright spot (although it has its own stress) is that my granddaughters are very active in the fight for sensible gun control. The dark spot here is they have PTSD due to the fact that my daughter, their mom, was at Sandy Hook that day. It has been a very tough few months for them.
In every situation with every person, be kind!
No matter what—
I guess I’ve never had healthy ways of coping. 44 years old on two years sober… still trying to just hide. I try to find beauty in my four small boys. The oldest is ten and he’s a literal genius. Trying to be a moral compass for someone who sees everything when I am such a wreck is hard. He and I had the talk last night. He expressed such shame and bawled because he was simply curious about girl private parts. He didn’t even really seek them out but had remembered noticing girls at the pool last year. He cried such pain over this. I held him and told him nothing would ever separate him from my love. There’s more to the story but intimately, it’s when I can be compassionate in moments I’m not prepared for that I can find hope in Christs work in me and my family. Just knowing he’s trying so hard to help us see him everywhere is a gift.
Seldom do I have an opportunity to see or chat with young families, as I live in a Senior Residence. This Lent I intend to show more support for our young people on the service staff here. As waiters in the dining area and workers in the housekeeping and maintenance staff, they play an important part in the welfare of the residents here. I plan to show more thanks in my chats with them, and perhaps get to know them better as people of God.
I’m using “the generosity habit” by Matthew Kelly. There are 101 suggestions and I am picking one each day of Lent
This Lent I hope to make my responses charitable and not rushed or thoughtless. I recently came across this phrase ..”Instead of a reaction, make a response”
Thursday’s Reflection items, #3: Too many things to do. I decided I would work on compassion.
Words of concern for our children that need to be spoken!
So many parents I know are doing their best to live as good examples and show their children how to love others. The older adults I know are starting to hide from the chaos which does not make it disappear. Therefore, I ask for the grace to educate them on being aware, informed, and accountable for doing something to navigate the chaos…prayer is the key!
The old adage children should be seen and not heard remains embedded in society, in terms of raising children. It’s just the means that has changed in the twenty first century. Todays’ parents stuff children’s mouths with bottles of juice, and plastic nipples so they can’t talk, and give them cell phones to watch as soon as their fingers can grasp. With no idea of what the children are watching. Is it any wonder today’s children shoot people? If people are shot and come back to life on screen, young children cannot comprehend that when they shoot someone they are dead forever. Do the children of today even have a conscience, if all our traditional moral values are opposed on kids programmes leading them to lie, steal and kill. If a child is surrounded by memories of babies being killed in its mother’s womb, is it any wonder that killing becomes the norm outside the womb as well.
Our society still lives by the old adage children should be seen and not heard. Only the means has changed as young children’s mouths are stuffed the bottles of juice and things to suck, so they can’t talk or pester us with questions. Their hands hold a cell phone to watch content that tears apart our traditional values and instead promotes telling lies, stealing and killing. When young children see people shot down in games on screen come back to life, they cannot comprehend that a real gun will kill a real person and their teacher or playmate will not come back to life. When babies experience the memories of children killed in the wombs they are growing in, is it any wonder that the killing will also continue outside the womb and be a visual reminder of what goes on in secret in our society every day in mother’s wombs around the world.
Thanks Sr. Norma Pimentel. God bless.