The Radical Call of Lent
Imagine you’re sitting in front of your doctor, and he says that your health definitely needs to improve. He then looks you square in the eyes and says, “If you wish to live a healthy long life, you must stop eating junk food and living a sedentary lifestyle, and start eating plenty of healthy foods and exercise every day.”
Your doctor’s wakeup call to you here would demand a radical physical lifestyle change. That is, if you wish to live a healthy long life.
At Lent’s beginning on Ash Wednesday, many of us were signed on our foreheads with a cross of ashes and told to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
That sign, and those words, from the Divine Physician are a radical spiritual wakeup call to all of us who wish to live healthy spiritual lives now in this world and to prepare well for the next world in eternity.
Dust to Dust
Being crossed with ashes is meant to alert us that our bodies will soon be much like the ashes on our foreheads. It should be a sober reminder that this life is coming to a quick close and that we have no time to lose in turning away from the evil of sin, that is, all that hurts and separates us from God, others, creation and ourselves. And to be faithful to the Gospel!
In this year’s papal Lenten message, Pope Francis warns us that “Once God’s law, the law of love, is forsaken, then the law of the strong over the weak takes over. The sin that lurks in the human heart (Mk 7:20-23) takes the shape of greed and unbridled pursuit of comfort, lack of concern for the good of others and even of oneself. It leads to the exploitation of creation, both persons and the environment, due to that insatiable covetousness which sees every desire as a right and sooner or later destroys all those in its grip.”
But more than any other time, Lent is the season for conversion – a radical change of mind and heart, a time to walk out of the darkness of sin and into the merciful, peaceful, joyful, loving light of Christ Jesus! And the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) is a wonderful heavenly gift to help us advance along the lifelong process of conversion.
Three Holy Practices
Additionally, the three holy practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving –especially stressed during Lent – are indispensible to our growth in the life of the Spirit – which is the Kingdom of God.
“Fasting,” Pope Francis astutely says, is about “learning to change our attitude towards others and all creation, turning away from the temptation to ‘devour’ everything to satisfy our voracity and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts.
“Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy.
“Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves”
Every day several thousand children die from hunger and hunger-related diseases. Remember them in your prayers and giving.
And please consider a Lenten donation to our starving brothers and sisters in South Sudan.
“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel!”
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan and parish gatherings from Santa Clara, Calif. to Baltimore, Md. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.