“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart…
Rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to your God.”
Lent is not about external symbols of penance, but about a call to real interior change. It is about turning back to God and reclaiming our own essential integrity. Lent can be a challenge but it can also offer an opportunity. It can be a time to reject what is unjust and selfish in our personal and communal lives and an opportunity to choose spiritual renewal and to work for societal transformation. The call to prayer and fasting is meant to clear our minds and open our hearts so that we can strip away the coverings through which the realities of injustice and oppression are made palatable. It enables us to realize that we are “the oppressors and the oppressed…we are the ones who have broken community…who have violated earth and our neighbor.” Only then can we become humble enough to live our lives with integrity.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
What do you see as “the coverings through which the realities of injustice and oppression are made palatable”? How can you see through them and help others to do the same? In what way can you concretize this during the next weeks?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of God shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and God will answer;
you shall cry for help, and God will say, here I am.
Character is the product of daily, hourly actions, and words and thoughts; daily forgivenesses, unselfishness, kindnesses, sympathies, charities, sacrifices for the good of others, struggles against temptation… Oh, it is these, like the blending colors in a picture or the blending notes of music which constitute us.
There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but to self-preoccupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt. It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God. It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride. Lent is the time to break down this idol and to direct our attention to our loving Lord.
Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Lent is a summons to live anew.
Joan Chittister, OSB
The journey of Lent with its climax in Good Friday and Easter, is about embarking on the way of Jesus on that path of mortality and transformation that is at the very center of the Christian life. When you think of it, who of us does not yearn for this? Who of us does not yearn for a fuller connection to life? Who does not yearn for an identity that releases us from anxiety and self-preoccupation? To be born again, it seems to me, corresponds to our deepest yearning.
Lent is not just a time for squaring conscious accounts: but for realizing what we had perhaps not seen before. The light of Lent is given us to help us with this realization.
I pray that each individual member of the faithful and every Church community will undertake a fruitful Lenten journey. I ask all of you to pray for me.