Just in one week a great deal has gone on in our world that gives us much pause. As I noted in my Feb. 17th statement on the crisis in Ukraine: “In truth, this moment is a wakeup call for all believers. If we want to counter the works of evil and sin in our world it must begin with each one of us.”

Correspondingly, as of yesterday on Ash Wednesday, the Christian world has entered a special time in the Church year when you and I are invited to reconnect with God, neighbor and self. Our diocesan theme for Lent 2022 is “Renew Us, O Lord.” It reminds me of a refrain composed by Lucien Deiss that says: “Grant to us, O Lord, a heart renewed. Recreate in us your own Spirit, Lord.”

This is the meaning behind the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and charitable works:

“Prayer” is opening our lives to God so that the divine image in which you and I are made might be renewed/refreshed. As I suggested in last week’s column this can be done with focusing on the various aspects of prayer: (1) Vocal Prayer such as the Rosary and Daily Mass during Lent; (2) Meditation is taking the time to sit with God’s Holy Word found in the Bible or the Daily Scripture readings, but may also include other spiritual reading; and (3) Contemplation is just sitting with Jesus such as in Eucharistic Adoration or in some other quiet prayer space whether indoors or outdoors. Like being in the Upper Room on the first Pentecost, this is space where God’s Holy Spirit can work within each of us and enkindle within us the fire of God’s Love.

Of course, the second Lenten practice of “Fasting” is all about making space for God to work in our lives. It involves us not thinking so much about self, but rather focusing on God and neighbor. This may involve using some of our time, talent and treasure to help in the continual building of the Kingdom of God in our midst, here and now.

Finally, “Charitable Works” as illustrated in the “Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy” are all about being the Face of Christ … the Face of God for those around us. Such works are our concrete response to Jesus’ request when facing the needy and hungry crowd, “You give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37)!

Spiritual Works of Mercy Corporal Works of Mercy

To admonish the sinner. To feed the hungry.

To instruct the ignorant. To give drink to the thirsty.

To counsel the doubtful. To clothe the naked.

To comfort the sorrowful. To visit the imprisoned.

To bear wrongs patiently. To shelter the homeless.

To forgive all injuries. To visit the sick.

To pray for the living and the dead. To bury the dead.

That is what I want to invite us to do this Lent: to be renewed by our relationship with God and in turn to renew the world in which we dwell. You and I are challenged to profess our faith not just with our lips, but even more by the way we live out our faith … a way that led others to know Jesus Christ through us. As the banner of the publication Our Sunday Visitor announced in its Feb. 6-12 edition—“It’s time to re-engage in DISCIPLESHIP.”

Dr. Brant Pitre in his “Introduction to the Spiritual Life” sees as a first step to this re-engagement the need for repentance. He writes: “Of course, before we can ever see the face of God, our hearts will need to be purified from sin—{Bishop’s commentary: “selfishness”}. In order for that to take place, we need to actually start walking down the spiritual path given by Jesus himself. The first step on the path is repentance” (p. 36).

Pitre notes that the call to repentance is found in Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, as well as Paul’s own preaching which is summarized by his own words: “repent and turn to God” (Acts 20:26). In addition, the Letter to the Hebrews highlights repentance as the foundation of the spiritual life (see Hebrews 6:1-2) [p. 47].

For me, this focus on repentance hits home when you consider the words used on Ash Wednesday for the imposition of the ashes: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” One’s discipleship is not simply saying the right words or going through the motions; even more it is conforming … forming … one’s life according to God’s Law as expressed in Sacred Scripture, especially in the teachings of Jesus. Dr. Pitre sees the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) as the entryway to following the spiritual path of Jesus (see p. 49).

In my own preparation for the Sacrament of Penance on a monthly basis, I use the Ten Commandments as a guide for my Examination of Conscience, mindful of how Jesus summarizes them in the Two Great Commandments of Love of God and Love of Neighbor. This practice is a direct response to the Universal Call to Holiness so emphasized in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen gentium) in its fifth chapter. Interestingly, this call to holiness is seen as a call to the fullness of Christian living.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, in writing on holiness, reflects: “What does it mean to be holy? Who is called to be holy? We are often led to think that holiness is a goal reserved for a few elect. St. Paul, instead, speaks of God’s great plan and says: “even as he (God) chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4). And he was speaking about all of us. … The Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, speaks with clarity of the universal call to holiness, saying that no one is excluded: “The forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one— that sanctity which is cultivated by all who act under God’s Spirit and … follow Christ, poor, humble and cross-bearing, that they may deserve to be partakers of his glory” (LG, 41) [General Audience, 13 April 2011].

Conscious of this call, we set out on a path of renewal this Lenten season asking the Lord to renew within each one of us the divine image in which we are made; and in turn, to carry Christ even more into our world today. Yet, we know there are distractions and temptations attempting to derail us from a closer walk with the Lord, so next week we will take a closer look at what can get us off track on the path of holiness. Until then, let us accompany one another in prayer as we set out on our Lenten journey.

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