My brothers and sisters in Christ,
Lent, that is, the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, begins with a call to humility and conversion, penance and prayer.
The Season of Lent always reminds us that we are pilgrims in this world and that our definitive goal is eternal life. However, what will happen in eternal life depends of what we do in this life; it depends on our personal actions and our correspondence with the Grace that God gives us.
Pope Benedict XVI said some time ago that “In the early Church, Lent was the time when catechumens prepared for Baptism, accompanied by the prayers of the whole Christian community. Today, too, the Lenten season is a privileged moment of conversion and spiritual renewal for the whole Church”
The symbol of the ashes with which we begin Lent is not coincidental. The liturgy offers us two formulas that can be used at the time of the imposition of the ashes: “repent and believe in the Gospel” and “you are dust and to dust you will return.”
These two formulas remind us about the same reality: that being aware of the brevity of our life on earth can help us live a life of constant conversion.
In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Christian life is a “road” to be travelled, it consists not so much of a law to be observed, but in meeting, welcoming and following Christ." 3/9/11
Today’s readings from the Prophet Joel and the Gospel of St. Matthew, show us how to get the most out of our Lenten penitential practices.
Joel appealed to the Israelites to change their heart with fasting and prayer and return to God. Joel reminded them that God was gracious and merciful, „slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.”
In the Gospel, Jesus cautioned the disciples to avoid the trap of performing religious acts for people to see. He cautioned them not to imitate the hypocrites but to give alms, pray, and fast, not for others to see their piety, but for love of God.
The Church offers three concrete means for us to work on our conversion during this time.
The first is penance, which means to learn to be detached of pleasures, and to offer sacrifices to God, especially the difficulties of daily life.
The second is prayer: both a personal dialogue with God as well as community celebration must be an essential part of the life of every Christian.
The third is charity: let us recall that charity is the virtue by which we will be judged at the final hour, because, as St. John writes in his letter: “Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).
This is, then, a time for us to examine ourselves, to see how we can be more charitable with others, also how we’ve failed to love our brothers and sisters, in order to correct ourselves and especially to forgive those towards whom we hold feelings of hatred or contempt.
So, as the Holy Father said today: “In this journey of Lent we are ready to understand the call of Christ to follow a more determined and consistent path, renewing our commitments and grace of our baptism, to abandon the old man within us and vest ourselves in Christ, to arrive at Easter renewed so we can say together with Saint Paul "it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me."
We ask Mary, Our Blessed Mother for her intercession, that this special time in the life of the Church and it should be a special time in our own personal life.
A time of penance, purification and conversion” A great opportunity to begin again. “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me” Amen.”1
1. (Psalm 51)