Lent: 'A genuine time of grace'

February 20, 2012

We are approaching the season of Lent, the Church’s annual retreat of 40 days of fasting, prayer and outreach. It is a season of repentance and conversion for all members of the Body of Christ and a time of welcoming for those who will enter the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation at Easter. It is a genuine time of grace.

On Ash Wednesday, one of the phrases used in the imposition of ashes on our foreheads is, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” It is a quotation of the words of Jesus Himself. The act of faith involves our whole person in a two-way movement: a conversion away from sin and a turning towards the Gospel, the word of truth and life. Further, the more we study and live the Gospel, the Good News of the Lord, we discover that the Gospel is not just a “what” but a “who.” It is the Person of Jesus Christ Himself.

Lent is the constantly renewed “re-discovery” of that “who” of Christ, the One who has already gone down the road to meet us and allows us to respond to His call, even as He called the first apostles and disciples, the crowds of the curious, the sinners, the poor and rich of His days in the flesh among us.

He still abides among us and calls us through the Gospel and through the Church that constantly proclaims freedom from sin and new liberty in grace through Jesus Christ, Her Savior and thus, our Savior.

Many practices of penance and reflection have grown up through the centuries to make our Lent more vivid and more productive. Fasting has normally involved less intake of food and is obligatory on a few days. Fasting from malice, from the constant desire for more, from “things” is also a good kind of fast. Prayer is critical to our way of life as Christians and is needed even more in Lent. This dimension above all requires personal prayer and an effort to be more consistent in our prayer life – more attached to an attitude of prayer that happens in conscious times of quiet and silence.

Set prayer forms like the Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and other devotions are very helpful to give distinctiveness to our observance of Lent. The more frequent celebration of Mass on weekdays and reception of Holy Communion is the most intimate way for us to meet the Lord and pray, both as a community of prayer and as individuals who want to intensify our life of prayer. Almsgiving or outreach to the poor is particularly necessary in Lent, lest our fasting and prayer become merely matters of pride and self-sufficiency. Almsgiving allows us to act in a small way as imitators of the Lord Himself who is generous to all and invites us to do the same. Such almsgiving involves our time, our talents used for others and their good, and our treasure, especially towards those in serious need in these difficult economic times.

I would also like to add another suggestion to all brothers and sisters in our Catholic community here in Galveston-Houston: a meditative reading and praying over the Sacred Scriptures, the Word of God. Lent is an excellent time to take one of the Gospels and spend the 40 days reading from it. Since this is the year when we read the Gospel of St. Mark on most Sundays, I suggest you retrieve your Bibles or buy a copy of the New Testament and slowly and calmly begin reading this short but very powerful text. Gospels tell us the words and deeds of Jesus; they speak the truth in wonderful narratives, bringing to light the face of Christ through the common tradition handed on to us through the specific insights of each Gospel writer. St. Mark is particularly attuned to misunderstandings of the title, “Christ,” that is given to the Lord Jesus. He is also very insistent on the meaning of Christ as the “Crucified Son of God.” His Gospel is worth a careful reading and meditation.

One final recommendation – an urgent one – is that we all find time this coming Lent to approach our merciful and forgiving Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Confession is a hastening towards the Father’s embrace; like the Prodigal Son, we go to the Lord and He brings His healing forgiveness through this great sacrament of forgiveness.

May God give us all a beautiful, repentant and loving Lent this year that we can come to worship at and celebrate Christ’s Resurrection at Easter.