What am I going to give up?”
For many people, preparing for Lent begins with that question.
Ash Wednesday, as we know, leads us into the season of Lent.
Perhaps we all approach this season in our own way.
The Church teaches that Lent is a time for repentance and conversion. How one goes about the journey of conversion may be different for each of us. Perhaps it depends upon how we might define conversion.
How would you define it for yourself? It is an important question to answer because in doing so, then we will take seriously what this season of Lent offers us.
Here are some simple definitions.
The grace of true conversion
One is "turning away from sin and living more intentionally the Gospel message of love." In other words, what changes do I need to make in my life to help me to become a more loving person? And when combined with true contrition or regret for past wrongs, it leads to repentance and opens us to the grace of true conversion.
Another simple definition that can help us in the Lenten season: Growing in a deeper love and gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.
Gratitude is the mother of all virtue
In other words, to reflect more deeply on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and its impact on my life. Gratitude is the mother of all virtue and always leads to greater charity. We should all want this, no?
And here is another definition. The shift from what I want for my life to a greater priority and preference for what God wants for my life. In other words, how have I been seeking the will of God for my life on a daily basis? Do I believe that the Lord has my best intentions at heart? And am I willing to seek his will in all things?
These reflection points for conversion can help us get started on this Lenten journey.
Historically, the season of Lent was meant to be a period of purification and enlightenment for the catechumens and candidates in the RCIA process.
Praying for Catechumens and Candidates
So perhaps we can all join those men, women and children in the Diocese of Saginaw as they journey through on this 40 day Lenten retreat preparing to come into full communion in the Catholic faith. In a special way, we ask the Lord Jesus to open their hearts to gifts and graces that true conversion and repentance brings. Please keep these folks, especially the ones in your parishes in prayer in a special way this Lenten season.
How do we take this journey? What must we do? More often than not, people choose to give up something for Lent as a sign of their inner desire for conversion. But if we only give up something and leave out the extra daily prayer and reflection, then the practice of giving something up becomes a diet.
The three important ingredients for conversion
The three important ingredients for conversion as outlined in the Gospel are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We cannot leave these things out and expect a deeper life in Jesus to happen.
But it is always important to remember that conversion is work – the Lord’s work in us. But it is up to us to fully participate in the Lord’s work. But no matter what we choose to do during this season of Lent, let us ask for the grace to remain faithful to our commitment to conversion. In doing so, we can look forward to a beautiful Lenten journey.
Change in the distribution of ashes this year
Allow me to share with you a change in the distribution of ashes this year. Rather than the usual tracing them on the forehead, because of the COVID -19 Protocols and Guidelines, ashes will be sprinkled over the top of your head in silence.
This method avoids speaking repeatedly into the face of persons receiving ashes, and it avoids any kind of direct physical contact. This method of distribution is consistent with a tradition that has traditionally been used in many European countries. So be expecting this if you attend an Ash Wednesday Mass in your parish.
Video of Bishop Gruss' Ash Wednesday Message
Year of St. Joseph
And finally, as we know, Pope Francis announced the Year of St. Joseph, which began on December 8 this past year. In doing so, Pope Francis said he was establishing the year so that “every member of the faithful, following his [Joseph’s] example, may strengthen their life of faith daily in the complete fulfillment of God’s will.” During this year, we are encouraged to “implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and zeal.”
“To strengthen our life of faith daily in the complete fulfillment of God’s will” – this sounds like conversion to me.
Weekly reflection on the virtues of St. Joseph
So during this season of Lent, as a way of entering into the Year of St. Joseph, I will be offering a weekly reflection on the virtues of St. Joseph expressed in the titles given him in the Litany of St. Joseph. Though there are many titles, we will reflect upon six of them.
I would also encourage people to make your Lenten pilgrimage with St. Joseph this year as a way of celebrating personally the Year of St. Joseph, and asking St. Joseph, as your spiritual father, to journey with you. He will teach us many things along the way.
Entrust ourselves to the paternal care of St. Joseph
In Luke’s Gospel, we read that Jesus “increased in wisdom and age and favor before God and man” under the watchful care of his parents, Joseph and Mary. This too, can happen to us if we entrust ourselves to the paternal care of St. Joseph. He loves each of you and has the power to increase the presence of God in your life, taking you to greater heights in your spiritual life. We would call this conversion, no?
The Church and the world needs St. Joseph. We need him to help us return to the love of Jesus and to living lives of virtue. We need his protection as well, as only a spiritual father could give us.
And for those interested in consecrating yourself to St. Joseph, Fr. Donald Calloway provides a wonderful 33 day preparation for this consecration in his book, Consecration to St. Joseph – The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father. If you would like to make this consecration on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, the preparation should begin on Monday, February 15th.
However you decide to take a Lenten journey, I wish you many graces and blessings.