I had a professor in college, probably the best and most demanding teacher I'd ever had, who required us to read the entire Catechism. And be tested on it. Not only was it completely appropriate for those who wished to teach the Faith to have a handle on what was in the guidebook, she said, but the words of the Catechism themselves are a conversion experience. They are not sterile or scholastic but when read in the light of faith, they are beautiful.
And they really are.
There are a lot of things written about Lent. There's certainly no shortage of bloggers, friends, priests, and authors willing to give their take on it. But I felt the Lord asking me to go back to the basics, back to the original intention of this holy season and start there. Using this, along with Christ's own words about fasting and conversion of heart, will be my starting point. I tend to get caught up in the temptation to want to find something new and novel, wanting to share some theological revelation that, of course, only I have been so enlightened with. We want to turn Lent, our Faith, into something it is not sometimes. Form it into our own image and let our own justifications, brokenness, and vices color what we choose to believe about it, and even what we'll tell others about it. Of course, God can speak to us privately in our own unique lives and circumstances, but there's a certain humility that comes with realizing it's already been figured out and has been for centuries.
We just need to do it.
I would encourage you (and mostly myself) to take the time as Lent begins to read first what the Church says it is. Read what our Lord asks of us. Then before we ask other people, look for ideas on the internet, share our own inspirations, talk with Him.
Ask HIM what He wants of you this Lent.
Where does HE want to change your heart?
What attachments do I have that are more important than HIM?
Don't be afraid of failing before you even start. Don't bring in your own take on Lent. Don't be afraid of doing something that seems too big for you. If He wants it of you, He will give you the strength to do it. And if you fail, maybe that's for our own good, too. I certainly wouldn't dissuade my own children from planning to do something out of love for me because they might not carry it through completely. I would be touched that they even wanted to and that they tried. Maybe the Lord is the same way. Don't criticize others' offerings but think only of what He is asking of you. Do be honest with Him and with yourself. Do be generous with Him. Lay your Lent down before Him now and ask Him what He wants with it.
Start there and the rest will fall into place, I think.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with sharing ideas and God loves to speak in that way to many of us. But let His Word inform you first. Let Him tell you if that is what He wants of you this Lent and if that outside advice fits in with the primary intentions of Lent and His plan for you first.
The Catechism's main points about Lent and conversion:
1430 Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.
1431 Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).
1432 The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: “Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!” God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God’s love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced:
Let us fix our eyes on Christ’s blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation, it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.
1434 The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: efforts at reconciliation with one’s neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one’s neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity “which covers a multitude of sins.”
1435 Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.
1436 Eucharist and Penance. Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. “It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins.”
1437 Reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Our Father—every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes to the forgiveness of our sins.
1438 The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).
(That's my bolding up there. And how neat is it that you can read the entire Catechism online here?)
And just the tiniest of snapshots of our Lord's Words on repentence and conversion:
"And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry." Matthew 4:2
"From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 4:17
"And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Matthew 6:16-19
"And every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." John 15:2
The Gospel message is all about conversion, I realize, but these were the first verses that came to my mind when thinking about Lent. Do you have any favorites?
May we all be blessed with a blessed and fruitful Lent, the Lent that He wants us to have.
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