Provincial's Reflection

Ash Wednesday and the road to redemption

Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are all on a journey in need of redemption, writes Fr Brian McCoy SJ. We are always in hope and belief that we can move beyond ‘the worst things we’ve ever done’.

In recent weeks I have been following our Australian cricket team with more than usual interest. They have returned to play in South Africa.

Steve Smith and David Warner have now been reinstated in the national team after being found guilty of ball-tampering in South Africa nearly two years ago. Both players apologised, were suspended over a period of time and now have been allowed to return to represent their country.

My interest has been in watching this process of crime, punishment and redemption. At the time of their offending there was strong public condemnation, a sharp and critical media focus and much shame experienced by the offenders that was also shared by their families and those closest to them. Many wondered at the time if their actions could ever be reconciled and they could return to playing for Australia. 

One does not often hear redemption talked about in this way in sporting circles but it is what we are now seeing. The time of punishment and suspension is now over. The penalties were graciously accepted. It is now acceptable to allow these two men to return and play cricket for their country once again.

It would be tempting to think that this redemption came cheaply. The nation wanted these men to play cricket once again and improve the chances of Australia winning. Some might argue that the punishment and suspension weren’t sufficient and that both cricketers could never be reconciled to represent Australia ever again.

On the other hand, it reveals how our human nature can learn to reach out and forgive and allow someone a second chance. As Bryan Stephenson reminds us in his book, Just Mercy (and in the recent film of the same name), ‘each of us is more than the worst things we’ve ever done’. Each of us is on a journey of mercy and redemption.

Stephenson writes, ‘I have come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavoured, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned’.

During this week we celebrate Ash Wednesday, a day when we publicly acknowledge with ashes on our forehead our weak and sinful humanity. It is this shared humanity we bring, along with our other Christian sisters and brothers, to the celebration of Easter in some six weeks’ time. We are all on a journey in need of redemption, always in hope and belief that we can move beyond ‘the worst things we’ve ever done’.

This is not to deny our past, our sins, even our crimes, but to allow our lives, and that of others, to discover new life and hope. It is allowing ourselves to acknowledge the truth of our sins but not being defined forever by any particular action or event. It is living in Easter hope but also in the grace of that redemption.

Such is the hope we bring in our journey to Easter. Perhaps our Australian cricketers, and South African players and spectators as well, can teach us something about its hope and promise.

By Fr Brian McCoy SJ


Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images