It is easy to get carried away at the beginning of Lent. We might think of all sorts of spiritual or ascetic practices and think that is what Lent is all about. I want to challenge you not to just say, "Oh I'll give up chocolate", or whatever it is, as a little sacrifice for Lent. I want to challenge you to look a bit deeper into what Lent is really about and to reflect on some principles that should underpin what you decide to do for Lent.
The word 'Lent', I am told, comes from an old English word which means Spring. And this can be a helpful start. Lent is the Church's season for a springtime of the soul. It is a time for the dead things to fall away and the new to spring forth in healthy growth.
We need to begin Lent confident that our Lord Jesus Christ wants us to be renewed in Him, and that He sends His Holy Spirit to the Church to renew her. And that means each and every one of us.
In order to get to the first principles of Lent, the word to properly grasp is conversion. Any Christian renewal in the Church must be about conversion.
This is not a one-off event, but an on-going process for most of us. The key to renewal is conversion, and there are two sides to it: there is a turning away, and, a turning towards. We turn away from all that is away from Christ, and we turn towards all that is of Christ, in fact, Christ Himself. For there to be renewal in our Lent, in our spring-time, there must be a falling away of the dead things, and a turning towards the life-giving. Christ called this "repent and believe". This was His principle exhortation as He proclaimed the Kingdom of God. So fundamentally we repent of sin and we turn to Christ. We turn away from all that is deathly (i.e. sin, selfishness, evil etc), and we turn towards that which is life-giving (i.e. Jesus Christ the Light and Saviour of the world).
Lenten Counsel No 1: Jesus' call to conversion does not aim at outward works but at the conversion of the heart, or interior conversion. Without inner conversion, outward penances remain sterile and false.
However, interior conversion will be expressed in visible signs, gestures and works of penance. So we are not saying here, that conversion is restricted to the private and interior self, but that this is where it must begin. This interior place, which is called the heart, is the source of our actions, decisions, and over time our character. So when the heart is converted, when it repents of sin and turns to Christ, everything in life is affected.
So our Lenten practices should be focused on conversion, the conversion of our hearts, away from sin and to Christ our Lord.
[Read more about this at CCC 1430-1433 in your Catechism, or here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P4A.HTM ]
Tomorrow we shall look at the three traditional expressions of conversion.