Reflections at the Beginning of Lent*
Lent is a time when the Church reminds us to spend some time amid the cares and concerns of our everyday life and reflect on Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection with which He redeemed us from sin and spiritual death.
Lent is ushered in by the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday and the reminder “ Remember man that you are dust and to dust you will return.” Now there is a new exhortation: “Repent and believe in the Gospel." (Mk 1:15).
Our being dust in origin and end is unquestionable. Repentance and believing in the Gospel involves the conversion of mind and heart. The Church is calling us to a continuing conversion to Christ, to renounce all evil and despise sin, and humbly turn to God to direct our lives.
We are familiar with the conversion of St. Paul (Saul of Tarsus), a man who persecuted the Christians but who upon his conversion proclaimed to many parts of the world the good news of Christ’s coming to save us. This dramatic conversion of St. Paul shows us how the Lord called him to a new direction and used him as an instrument in His work of salvation.
Another example of conversion is that of St. Augustine of Hippo, who spent many years of his life in immoral ways but upon his conversion and repentance, led a life of dedicated service to God and His people and merited for him the title “Doctor and Father of the Church.”
St. Paul’s and St. Augustine’s dramatic conversion made their lives turn towards the opposite new direction, a direction away from their previous hang-ups, and dramatically changed their lives. In the end, both of them became saints.
As already Catholics, our conversion to Christ may not be as dramatic as the conversion of Paul and Augustine. When we were baptized, we initially underwent a quiet transformation that made us God’s children. Occasionally, especially during the Easter Vigil, we make public manifestations that we renounce the evil one (Satan) and all sin, and then we continue living as professed Catholics the way we feel we should. Is there a further need for conversion for us?
Conversion is not a one-time event. The initial conversion is necessary, but conversion itself is a continuing process. Affected by our fallen human nature, we still feel the “pull” or attraction of “the world, the flesh and the devil” in our lives. For this reason, God, in His love and mercy, in many ways, calls us to continuing conversion. The Church emphasizes this when she tells us that all are called to holiness (Lumen Gentium, Ch. V) and cites the Old Testament exhortation “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2.), and in the New Testament “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is Perfect.” (Mt 5:48)
How then can we be holy and what must we do to be on the continuing road to conversion and perfection?
First, we have to look for the “idols” of various types that dominate and rule our lives. These idols could be people who are aggressively influencing us to accept values that are contrary to the teachings of Christ and His Church. These idols can also be our inordinate attachment to wealth, power of many kinds, and strong attachments to material goods and pleasure.
What are our “idols” that we have to get rid of and renounce in our lives? What attachments do we have that prevent us from treading the path to holiness? What choices do we make that lead us away from Christ? When we realize what these attachments and inordinate desires that hinder complete conversion to Christ are, then we are on the first step to the continuing path to personal transformation and holiness. Thus, conversion’s first step occurs when a person recognizes his sinfulness and regrets his/her sins, and resolves to follow the will of God in his/her life.
Another step is necessary, and that is to place our total trust in God’s mercy and love. Only then can we say that genuine conversion is present. Conversion is a gift that enables us to confront the fact of our proneness to sin and to turn to the mercy and love of God Who has a plan for us for our eternal happiness.
When we allow the all-loving and all-merciful God to take over and transform our lives, we become a whole new creation. All our faculties, our intellect, our heart, emotions, and will are then attuned to the will of God.
Looking at our hearts, we realize that deep within our beings, we have a longing and desire for true happiness and that longing can be filled only by God. St. Augustine in his Confessions acknowledges: “Our hearts are made for thee O Lord, and they shall never rest until they rest in Thee.”
Genuine conversion involves our love for others. We cannot say that we are truly converted to God if we do not keep Jesus’ commandment of love for our fellowmen. “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I love you.” (Jn 15:12)
This season of Lent, let us search our hearts and ask our Lord for the grace to see everything that is embedded in there. Is there anything there that hinders us from having a genuine relationship with Him such as -- an idol that preoccupies our energies? A grudge that eats up our emotions and makes us unforgiving of others who have wronged us? A topsy-turvy hierarchy of values? Misguided areas of importance in our life? Laziness or fear that prevents us from confronting what we hold dear because they are not in conformity with what Christ requires of us?
Have we completely renounced all sin and all evil? Equally important, have we decided and resolved to make a turnabout to God and pursue His will for us? Let us all ask for the grace that He will touch our hearts and our minds so that we can cast out from our hearts and minds what does not please God so that we can live the life He wants us to live.
God’s invitation is an invitation to eternal life. That is what Christ, the Son of God, came for. Let’s make a full choice for Jesus. The Christian life is not always easy to live. Giving up and conquering inordinate human desires can be a cross to us. But Christ’s crucifixion was not easy either. And yet He willingly suffered and died for us.
True conversion is like dying to oneself. St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians (2:20), wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”#
* A Re-post from March 6, 2019