Once again, we begin the holy season of Lent, the forty day opportunity to see where we are in relationship to God. As I mentioned in my last year's Lenten post, as a young boy I was not fond of Lent because it always meant "giving something up." Like many other youngsters, I did not want to think about forty days of "no candy" or "no going to the movies." Because in my youth we only had a small 10 inch screen television with one TV channel, giving up television was not really thought about. I realized after I was grown that giving something up for Lent didn't seem any more likeable than when I was young.
I remember one Lent when I was still a cigarette smoker (this is over forty years ago), I decided to give up smoking for Lent. Then on Easter Sunday, I broke open a pack of cigarettes and lit up. My wife asked me why I had to do this after having been without smoking for seven weeks. I told her simply that I wanted to. That was that.
Making resolutions - something like we do at the beginning of every new year - always seems to be difficult for us and usually we end up not keeping them for very long. What then should we do about Lent? What is Lent really about?
It might be good to recall that Lent began as a period of retreat for those preparing to receive baptism at Easter. This forty day period of retreat was similar to the forty days Jesus spent in the desert - on retreat - before he began his earthly mission. That period of retreat still holds for those who are preparing to receive baptism at the Easter Vigil but it also gives all of us a time to pause and reflect upon our lives.
A word we often hear about at this time is conversion. We think of having to make radical changes in our lives when we hear this word. But a little booklet of spiritual reflections published some years ago had this to say about conversion:
Conversion is not about changing ourselves; it is not about working hard enough or learning enough to make ourselves good. Conversion is about our willingness to allow God to be God in our lives.
This is about allowing God to shower us with his unconditional and boundless love that was shown most effectively on the cross when Jesus died for us. What may be somethings that keep us from allowing God to be God for us? Perhaps it is a thing; maybe a possession to which we have become inordinately attached. There is nothing wrong in possessing things, especially those things that can make our lives more comfortable. It is in what perspective we hold them. If kept in proper perspective then there is nothing to be concerned about.
Perhaps it is a habit which prevents God from being God for us. There may be a habit that is either morally or physically unhealthy for us that we need to rectify. Perhaps it is a person, a person with whom we need to be reconciled. This is a time for reconciliation and maybe we need to reach out to someone like this to bring about that reconciliation. Lent is a time for us to ponder any of these areas that may be preventing God from being fully God in our lives.
We have used two words in this post that need to be revisited. The first is Lent. Lent comes originally from an old English words meaning springtime. Lent should be a time for us to allow God's life and love to bloom within us as springtime blooms. The second word is conversion. This word comes from two Latin words meaning to turn around together. If we need to turn our lives around we do it in company with God who is there always to assist us.
At the beginning of Lent, Christians come forth to receive ashes on their foreheads as a reminder of two things: our mortality and our sinfulness. We are reminded that our life on this earth must come to an end sometime. As I write this blog today, I am preparing to conduct funeral services tomorrow morning for a six-year old child who was killed in a tragic auto accident. That child will not have lived to see what life would have brought to him as he matured. Yet, he is with God and now playing at the foot of the throne of God for all eternity.
Ashes are a great leveler: no matter who receives them - be it pope, bishop, priest, deacon, vowed religious or layperson - all are reminded of their mortality and of the fact that they are sinners. So as we go forth this Lent reminded of these facts, may it be a time for us to let God be God for us for as St. Paul says: Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!