Main image – Crucifix, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters, Manhattan, (c) Will Ross
“Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again. And when you go to confess your sins, believe firmly in His mercy which frees you of your guilt. Contemplate His Blood poured out with such great love, and let yourself be cleansed by It.”
– Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2020
It seems like only yesterday that we were moving through the season of Lent and approaching Easter and yet now, here we are again, once more on the cusp of this most special of seasons.
Offering his reflection for Lent, our Holy Father Pope Francis says that “we must continually return to this mystery in mind and heart, for it will continue to grow within us in the measure that we are open to its spiritual power and respond with freedom and generosity”. And that is why we celebrate Lent not only once, but every single year – if we are properly disposed to the enormous grace of the season, it will build within us year after year, deepening it’s transforming power within our souls. But precisely what is that ‘transforming power’?
The Holy Father sees the season of Lent as a time of conversion, with the mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord at it’s heart. He writes that this mystery “is not a past event; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is ever present, enabling us to see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer”.
And there is a sense of urgency to this quest for conversion; the Pope writes that “it is good to contemplate more deeply the paschal mystery through which God’s mercy has been bestowed upon us”. He goes on to write that “the experience of mercy is only possible in a ‘face to face’ relationship with the crucified and risen Lord”.
We cannot encounter the Lord in this way except through prayer; on this point, the Holy Father writes that –
“Even more than a duty, prayer is an expression of our need to respond to God’s love which always precedes and sustains us. Christians pray in the knowledge that, although unworthy, we are still loved. Prayer can take any number of different forms, but what truly matters in God’s eyes is that it penetrates deep within us and chips away at our hardness of heart, in order to convert us ever more fully to God and to his will.”
Prayer, then, becomes the very ‘tool’ of our gradual conversion.
Pope Francis notes that this time of conversion is a gift from God to us, because we cannot choose the time or the means of conversion; but in this season of Lent, we deepen our focus on the mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord and on His voice; and “the more fully we are engaged with His Word, the more we will experience the mercy He freely gives us”. It goes without saying that like all gifts which are generously given to us, we should never take it for granted.
A radical conversion – which this season offers us – leads to radical change within us, and is expressed in the sharing of this priceless gift which is given to us by the Lord –
“Putting the paschal mystery at the centre of our lives means feeling compassion towards the wounds of the crucified Christ present in the many innocent victims of wars, in attacks on life, from that of the unborn to that of the elderly, and various forms of violence. They are likewise present in environmental disasters, the unequal distribution of the earth’s goods, human trafficking in all its forms, and the unbridled thirst for profit, which is a form of idolatry.”
Putting all of this into practice, and under the heavenly patronage of the Mother of God, we will experience that merciful gift of conversion and become what the Lord asks us to be – “the salt of the earth and the light of the world”.