Conversion: now is the right moment
Lent, that is, the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, begins on Feb. 6 this year, earlier than other years. As you might know, the date for Easter Sunday is defined by the Jewish lunar calendar, and for this reason, it varies.Thus, both liturgical seasons of Lent and Easter have different dates every year.
The season of Lent always reminds us that we are pilgrims in this world and that our ultimate goal is eternal life. However, what will happen in eternal life depends on what we do in this life; it depends on our personal actions and our cooperation with the grace that God gives us.
Friar Pedro de los Reyes, a famous Spanish spiritual writer of the 16th century, wrote a short poem which, in the language of his time, expressed the reality that we Catholics often forget.
He wrote: “What was I born for? To be saved. That I have to die, this is infallible. To not see God and be condemned, will be tragic, but possible. Possible? What do I do? What do I busy myself with? What do I let myself be enticed by? Insane I must be, because I am not a saint.”
Lent is the time that the liturgy of the church gives us so we can get away from the “insanity” of a life distracted from that which is essential, and turn our gaze to the most important issues of our life: our conversion and our holiness. Today’s culture offers many distractions so we can live without reflecting on the certainty of death. It’s not that our faith encourages us to think about death. Our faith celebrates life; and for this reason Lent finishes with the great feast of the resurrection of the Lord.
But the great spiritual writers have always reminded us of the importance of thinking about death, not because it is a theme “attractive” in itself, but because to think about death reminds us that our time on earth is limited, and that we have to get the most out of it, by following the Lord Jesus.
For this reason, the symbol of the ashes with which we begin Lent is not coincidental. The liturgy offers us two formulas that can be used at the time of the imposition of the ashes: “repent and believe in the Gospel” and “you are dust and to dust you will return.” These two formulas remind us about the same reality: that being aware of the brevity of our life on earth can help us live a life of constant conversion.
Lent also reminds us that conversion is not a specific moment of our lives that we have already reached or will reach: it is a constant reality that must be part of every moment of our lives.
The church offers three concrete means for us to work on our conversion during this time. The first is penance, which means to learn to be detached of pleasures and to offer sacrifices to God, especially the difficulties of daily life. The second is prayer: both a personal dialogue with God as well as a community celebration must be an essential part of the life of every Christian. The third is charity: let us recall that charity is the virtue by which we will be judged at the final hour because, as St. John writes in his letter: “Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 Jn 4:20)
This is, then, a time for us to examine ourselves, to see how we can be more charitable with others, also how we’ve failed to love our brothers and sisters, in order to correct ourselves and especially to learn to forgive.
Lent is then a time of conversion. And the best moment to be converted is today. Because as St. Augustine said, “We can always trust that the Lord will give us his mercy, but we don’t know if he will give us a tomorrow to be able to receive it.”
May the Lord grant us the grace to live each day of this Lent with enthusiasm for our conversion, the same we would have if we knew this would be the last day of our lives.