“Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts”, to .. grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, He patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, He shows us His readiness to forgive.” (Pope Francis – Message for Lent 2017)
The fist step that leads to merciful forgiveness is the acknowledgement of our sinfulness, our misery, before the all-holy One; all the while, trusting that this mercy will embrace us, knowing that the mercy of the ever-loving God will consume our misery like straw in the fire. In the seasons of the Church, Lent is the special time when we consider this in a more explicit way and we look for meaningful ways of returning to God.
All of us are sinners – that sin takes many forms, has many names, and each sin does particular damage to our souls and to our relationship with the Lord and with our neighbour. But we know that He “came to call sinners” (cf. Lk.5:32) and so we are confident of His mercy. In other words, we are called to conversion, as the Holy Father tells us in his Lenten message. The Lord is waiting patiently for our return to Him. All of need His mercy and His grace, which will help us to grow ever closer to Him, to open our hearts to Him and deepen in our friendship with Him. Lent is a time of trust in the Lord, Who is all merciful.
But Lent is more than simply a time of thinking good and holy thoughts; that conversion we are called to seeks expression in our lives. It must become a real and living thing if the conversion is to produce the effects for which God intended it. The Holy Father puts it this way –
“Lent is a favourable season for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: fasting, prayer and almsgiving” (Pope Francis – Message for Lent 2017)
And so we are called to sanctity – all of us. As Father Gabriel tells us –
“Sanctity is not reserved for a few; Jesus, by His Incarnation and by His death on the Cross, merited the means of salvation for all who believed in Him. He, the all-holy, came to sanctify us .. Jesus comes not only to save me, but to sanctify me. He is calling me to sanctity and has merited for me all the graces I need to attain it ..” (‘Divine Intimacy’ – Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene, OCD)
Pope Francis reminds us of the means to sanctification – fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Fasting is means of reminding ourselves of our need for penance as sinners. It expresses our sorrow for our sins and asks God’s forgiveness. It also reminds us that our will is not supreme; rather, we are subject to the will of God and all that we have comes from His divine providence. Fasting – like other forms of mortification – is a practical reparation for sin.
Prayer is the communication between our poor hearts and the Heart of God. Prayer is listening to the Lord and also speaking with the Lord. It is the bridge between God and man; prayer is to the soul what air is to the body – indispensable.
Almsgiving reminds us that our love of God extends to our neighbours – who is also offended and affected by our sin. It is the call of the Gospel to witness to Jesus, Who had a special love of the poor, the forgotten, the downtrodden, those on the margins. We give not only financially, but also in time and in the use of whatever talents the Lord has given us, in the service of those around us.
In this holy season of Lent, may the Lord be truly gracious to us and give us all we need to draw ever closer to Him and to our neighbour for love of Him. And may we listen for, and respond to, His call within our hearts.