Return to the Lord with Your Whole Heart, for He is Merciful

Today in many of our churches, the words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel,” from the Gospel of Mark (1:15) will be repeated as Catholics have their foreheads signed with ashes to mark the beginning of the 40 days of Lent.  This holy season is a penitential summons to that total conversion called for by our baptism, in which we were made suitable to share in the mission of Christ.   This call is an ongoing process – conversion of the heart is never completed in this life.  As works in progress who tend to stray off the path at times, we never fully achieve that complete inner renewal that leads us to think, judge and arrange our entire life under the impulse of the charity revealed to us in Christ.

Thus, the witness of Scripture and the life of the Church will not let us abandon corporal penances.  But these penitential practices are not meant to impose a burden on us, rather they are meant to allow us to put down our burdens, to get rid of the heavy baggage we carry.  “When Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist,” Pope Francis reminds us in his Message for Lent 2014, “he did it to be among people who need forgiveness, among us sinners, and to take upon himself the burden of our sins.  In this way he chose to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance (No. 1430, see also Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18).  Three particular forms – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – best “express conversion in relation to oneself, to God and to others” (Catechism 1434).

Prayer calls us to a closer relationship with God.  I have heard some people say that they have come to the Sacrament of Confession to “set things right with God.” Prayer is part of keeping things right with God as well, to stay close to our loving Father with our minds and our hearts.

All Fridays in Lent are days of abstinence, that is, days on which meat is not eaten. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting in addition to abstinence from meat.  Fasting reminds us that we are at our healthiest, spiritually and physically, when we practice moderation with regard to life’s pleasures and treat our bodies with care and respect, knowing that they house Christ’s love within them.

Almsgiving reminds us that to love God is to love our neighbor.  During Lent we consider our neighbors who are in need and how we can most generously come to their aid.

Ultimately penitential practices lead us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Here we enter more fully into the experience of Christ’s Passion, death and Resurrection, remembering that all of us, by our own personal sins, were in some way responsible for Christ’s Passion.  “In her Magisterial teaching and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that ‘sinners were the authors and ministers of all of the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 598, quoting the Roman Catechism I, 5-11). Through our sins, which he took on himself, and by his holy Cross, Jesus redeemed the world.

For this reason, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an important part of our Lenten observance.  Once again, in this archdiocese through The Light is ON for You initiative, Confession will be celebrated every Wednesday evening in all of our parishes.  I hope that you might take this opportunity to experience God’s mercy. The deepest joy of the Christian is to come to the celebration of Easter renewed, refreshed and reconciled with Jesus, our Lord and Savior.