Over the years, I have noticed that the crowds at Mass on Ash Wednesday rival even Christmas and Easter. There is something attractive about being called to renew our relationship with God, about the penitential nature of the day and of this season that is fundamentally about conversion.
Traditionally, the three pillars of the Lenten journey are prayer, fasting and giving alms. These are ways to renew our love for God and neighbor.
Prayer is time spent with God. Giving alms is a concrete expression of compassion for someone else. Fasting is a combination of the two — we fast to create more interior room for God through a symbolic participation in the redeeming, sacrificial love of Jesus, which allows us to share in the suffering of others.
By renewed attention to these ascetical practices, we exercise concretely our love for God and neighbor. This is the conversion we are called to each day, because the Christian life is to mirror the life of Jesus.
We must be clear that our call to personal conversion is not some exercise in “self-improvement,” but rather a renewal of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Lent draws our attention to Jesus, particularly to all he did for our healing and salvation. During these six weeks, we are invited to pay close attention to the love of Jesus that led him to do so much for the good of others. His love for us was profoundly rooted in his love for and obedience to the Father. Implication for us: greater attention to our love for and obedience to the Father.
Jesus’ love was practical and concrete — in the way he received all who came to him for healing and forgiveness, in his teaching, and especially in his passion and death. Implication for us: greater attention to the needs of others and greater willingness to offer physical or emotional assistance.
When I was young and would complain about something, my mother was quick to say, “Offer it up,” helping me to remember the sufferings of Jesus and to unite my sufferings to his as a way of participating in the work of salvation. This is the intention of fasting and giving alms.
One sin we seldom reflect upon is the sin of omission. Where do we fail to love? How many opportunities do we miss each day to follow the interior nudge to love, to act for the good of another? Prayer and fasting make us more sensitive to these movements of the heart.
In daily life, there are so many small sacrifices that annoy us, that we simply endure. This Lent, let us see these daily crosses — of tedious work or disappointments — as opportunities to better appreciate and participate in the cross of Jesus for the good of others.
Ultimately, personal conversion is the path to greater participation in our life in Christ. May we each experience that grace this Lent, that we may be prepared to celebrate with renewed zeal the resurrection of Jesus Christ this Easter.
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - March 2020
Archbishop Paul D. Etienne was named Archbishop of Seattle on September 3, 2019 by Pope Francis. Read his blog at https://www.archbishopetienne.com/.
El Arzobispo Paul D. Etienne fue nombrado Arzobispo de Seattle el 3 de septiembre de 2019 por el Papa Francisco. Lea su blog en: https://www.archbishopetienne.com/.