Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lent: A Preparation for New Life

This is from a series of  bulletin inserts I wrote for our church, waaaaay back in 2008. 

It's good for reflection now that Lent is underway and my initial fervor may have flagged. I'm just sayin' ... it could be that I need a Lenten booster!

Lent: A Preparation for New Life
1430 Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.231431 Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart)....

1439 The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father:37 the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father’s house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father’s generous welcome; the father’s joy — all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life — pure worthy, and joyful — of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church. Only the heart of Christ who knows the depths of his Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Most of us do not look forward to these 40 days of penance. Perhaps this is why the Church, in Her wisdom, mandates it for us. We would never seek this on our own.

A time of deprivation. A time of suffering. A long, gray, dreary time of doing without the little things that make life worthwhile ... coffee, chocolate, a favorite television show. This is all too often the attitude of dread that we bring to Lent.

The Church also strongly recommends that we do something additional during this time to show penance. Prayer, fasting, and service to others are among the recommended activities that we may resolve to take on. These also do not sound very attractive and often are dropped during the 40 days.

Yet it is that very attitude that is skewed from reality, as we see if we read the Catechism about interior penance. We are going about it all backwards if we merely focus on the outward sign, on what we are “giving up” or “adding on.”

This is not about outward signs and empty gestures. Lent’s purpose is to deepen our knowledge of ourselves and of what we need to come closer to a more loving relationship with God. This is the hunger that should be propelling us into Lent. This is the true change of heart and new life which God longs for us to have. The outward signs should be merely the visible supports to our inward changes.

With this in mind, we can examine our Lenten plans while asking God what He would like us to do to come closer to him. He knows our hearts better than we do ourselves. He will guide us in how to link our “giving up” and “adding on” to help us gain the interior knowledge we need.

Perhaps instead of giving up coffee altogether, we can give up the daily morning visit to Starbucks. The fifteen minutes that is saved, could be spent in prayerful reading of scripture, for which we would usually never have time. Possibly we may give up watching our favorite television show and spend the time with our families playing a game, reading aloud, or just talking. Maybe we feel called to volunteer to spend time with those in need. In that case, giving up surfing the internet may allow us to do other tasks in order to have the needed time later on.

Regardless of the outward signs, let us be sure to take full advantage of this opportunity to dig deeper, change our hearts, and grow closer to God.

23 Cf. Joel 2:12-13; Isa 1:16-17; Mt 6:1-6; 16-18.
24 Cf. Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1676-1678; 1705; Cf. Roman Catechism, II,V,4.
37 Cf. Lk 15:11-24.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church can be found online.

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