Season of Lent reminds us of sin and our need for conversion
For me, Lent always starts with Mass on Ash Wednesday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. The church was packed. Then I was off to St. Mary’s Church nearby for soup and bread with Father Tom O’Connor (a long tradition, recently restored). People gave up their lunch and came to Father Tom’s for soup and bread and left what funds they would ordinarily pay for lunch, and more as well, so St. Mary’s can continue to feed the hungry.
So Once again, the great season of Lent is upon us. It is a season to hear the call of Christ, and also a time when we fill a great need individually and as a community. It is a time for repentance, for conversion and for fasting, and a time to turn to Christ. Yet, it is easy to lose our way during Lent. We can focus too much on the external practices. As important as these are, we are instructed to go deeper and understand why it is that we fast, give alms, go to daily Mass, say the Stations of the Cross and pray.
In the season of Lent, in the great Triduum and in the holy Easter season that follows, the focus must be on the Person of Christ. The fasting, best done quietly as the Ash Wednesday Gospel suggests, makes us free to show Christ and to show ourselves that none of the goods of this world will ever be preferred to God and His will.
The giving of alms to the soup kitchen, to the poor and to those in need is an external action meant to open hearts to Christ. Attending Mass on weekdays, it seems to me, is the best preparation for Easter. The Scripture readings during Lent open up to us the whole meaning of redemption.
It begins with ashes…Ash Wednesday has almost become like a holy day of obligation. Some people think it is. You may be aware that on college and university campuses it is the biggest day of the year. At Notre Dame, there were literally thousands of young people who received ashes and many went to the sacrament of penance. This is true of colleges and universities throughout the country, including non-Catholic colleges. Some of our brothers and sisters of the reformed tradition are restoring the practice of giving ashes.
A need to repent…I think people, including good people who are faithful in the practice of their religion, find themselves hungering for a sense of conversion. They hear the call of Christ on Ash Wednesday. The taking of ashes is an external sign that I wish my heart and soul to be converted. “I wish to be cleansed.”
I find that young people, even though they are struggling to be chaste and to do God’s will, are becoming very conscious of the permissiveness of society around them. You cannot do retreats for college students of young adults without becoming aware of how they are pulled in directions they do not really want to take. Some young people who are living good lives find themselves confused, perplexed and chastened by what they see happening to their friends. Sometimes they come to Ash Wednesday not just to do repentance for themselves, but to pray for their friends.
Within the parameters of the parameters of their parish church or their campus church, they have a sense of divine, of the closeness of Christ, of forgiveness, and it is a place where they believe Christ will find them and touch them.
The church’s retreat and start of spring…The best advice I can give you is to focus on the person of Jesus Christ. Look through his sufferings to see his love. You know, it is basically a joyful time. I think that in the liturgy it is referred to as “this joyful season.” Not only has Christ died to sin but we have as well, and we repeat that dying when we repent. Remember the call to repentance comes from Him. Let us hear it again throughout this beautiful season.
Sincerely yours in our Lord,
Most Reverend John M. D’Arcy