Lent: A call to a change of life
The season of Lent has begun. It is, in a way, our annual retreat as Christians. The focus of our retreat points us to Easter, with its promise and its hope. We celebrate the new life Jesus won for us. We participate in His life through our baptism. Thus, in the Mass of Easter, we renew the promises of baptism reminding ourselves that, in Jesus’ light, in His love, we live differently.
Talking of Easter, however, gets us ahead of ourselves. We need to see that it is on the horizon, but the work of Lent is preparation for it. That is why it is particularly beautiful for us to have in our midst those who are preparing for baptism and reception into the full communion of the Church at Easter. They are converting their lives to draw closer to the Lord and live in His way. For them, and for us, Lent is a time of metanoia. That is a word often used in the Scripture. It is sometimes translated as “repent.” Certainly, an important part of Lent is the need we each have for repentance of our sins. But the metanoia Lent calls us to is more than just being sorry for our sins. It really means, at root, “to change one’s mind,” to take on a new way of thinking and being. The change we seek in ourselves in Lent is to move out of our self-centered life and to try to see the world each day with God’s eyes. The Scriptural understanding of metanoia, then, involves a profound process of repentance, conversion, and change of life.
At heart, the message of Lent asks us, “Does the message of Jesus make a difference in my life? What must I change to make it so? What would my conversion look like?” Perhaps, it might involve looking outside myself, at the way in which I value others.
I visited one of our prisons at Christmas. It was my privilege, while I was there, to baptize one of the men, confirm him, and give him the holy Eucharist for the first time. Under any circumstances, it is a wonderful thing to be able to minister those sacraments, but it is a special grace to do it in prison. It is a powerful witness to the possibility of conversion, to repentance and change.
The man baptized shared a little of his story. His background was sad, full of neglect and abuse. He never met anyone he could trust, anyone whom he could believe in. He ended up in prison. I didn’t ask him about the crime. When he found himself in prison, he met some people who cared for him. They were the chaplains and the volunteers. He wanted to become part of the joy he saw in them. They brought him to Jesus. His experience with them changed him. He was converted, and I was able to baptize him. He knew the change he had to make in his life. Because those he met did not simply judge him as a criminal but treated him with dignity, he came to know God’s love. He experienced that “change of life” that is the true work of Lent.
In January, I accompanied our young people to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, a reminder that there are still a lot of people in our country who believe that abortion is the killing of innocent life. As we walked along with the thousands of others there, I saw a group of women walking together carrying signs with the message “I regret my abortion.” I was struck by the fact that these women not only regretted a choice they had made but wanted to share their stories and the conversion of life they had experienced. They felt accepted enough to be able to join in with this march, a demonstration for life. What they had learned from the sadness of their lives had helped them to experience a “change of life.”
These stories remind us that change is possible. In fact, with God, all things are possible.
With these stories in mind, I invite you to use the season of Lent to appreciate the goodness of each human person. God’s grace may be working through you to bring another person to know God’s love. We never know how God will work through us. It can be difficult to see good in people with whom we disagree or in whom we see a lifestyle with which we disagree. But we never know the power of God’s love. Remember, St. Paul, the great apostle of the Church, was persecuting the Christians before he encountered the Risen Christ and changed his life. He had participated in the murder of St. Stephen, the deacon. Yet, Jesus called him for a great mission in the Church.
Lent is a time of conversion. Let us spend these days of prayer seeking the good in one another and helping one another to seek the “change of life” that will make us better disciples of the Lord Jesus.