Lenten call to conversion

By Corinne Winter

This coming week, on Wednesday, March 6, we begin the season of Lent. It is a time of intensified prayer and fasting leading up to the celebration of the paschal mystery during the Easter Triduum. In the history of the church, Lent has been connected to preparation for (adult) baptism, reconciliation of penitents and their restoration to full participation in the sacraments, and imitation of Jesus’ fast in the desert. All of these connections call us to view Lent as a time to deepen our commitment to ongoing conversion: our own conversion and that of the world.

Those preparing for baptism are exhorted that they are baptized into Christ’s death so that they might share in his resurrection. In baptism, we die to sin and receive a new life as members of Christ’s body. In reconciliation, we acknowledge our failures to live according to the grace we have received. We celebrate God’s abundant mercy and receive the gift of renewed strength to live out our baptismal calling. Of course, we do not view Jesus’ fasting as a process by which he turned from sin in the way we need to do. He is, however, portrayed as facing temptations. After confronting those, he enters into his public ministry. Thus, the fasting of Jesus does seem to mark a turning point in his life and work.

During Lent, then, we turn our attention to our own constant need for conversion. It is appropriate for us to choose Lenten practices according to areas of our life in which we see that need most clearly. We may resolve to grow in prayer, to set aside behaviors that distract us from our true goals in life, or to adopt habits that better serve our family and community life. Many of us will receive the sacrament of reconciliation during communal services, recognizing that our turn to God also turns us toward the communities to which we belong. As humans, we are created for community. We are born and grow within communities of kinship and culture. As we mature, especially through our faith, we recognize our connections with ever expanding communities. Ultimately, we belong within the whole of creation.

Together with and as part of the call to conversion, then, comes the call to renewed apostolic zeal. With and in Christ, we are called to seek not only change in ourselves, but the conversion of the whole church and of the world. That quest may seem overwhelming. But as we look at “The Joy of the Gospel” during our diocesan Vision 20/20 process, we recognize that Pope Francis, along with his predecessors, insists it is a mission we cannot overlook. In baptism, we are anointed into Christ’s three-fold ministry as priest, prophet and king. We are commissioned for prayer and worship, for bearing witness and for leadership to continue the work of Christ. The work of evangelization belongs to us. Reflecting on the life of Christ, we know that his ministry leads to the cross.

Both the church and the world cry out for us to take up the cross with Christ, even though at times the world may seem to deny that. With Christ, we are sent to accompany those in need: the unborn, the marginalized, the wounded, the displaced, the immigrants and refugees. Their needs belong to us. We reach out to them not out of an abundance of generosity, but out of our own need to see the world become what God creates it to be. In Catholic social teaching, this principle is often identified as the principle of solidarity.

At the beginning of Lent, our parishes will offer us “Rice Bowls” for collecting money to be donated to Catholic Relief Services. We will be encouraged to fill them with money we may save by sacrificing some of the luxuries with which we are accustomed to treat ourselves. That is one small and fairly easy way to remind ourselves that the goods of the earth are ours to share and not to hoard. It should also remind us that the extreme needs CRS addresses ought not to exist. Poverty, hunger, homelessness, war and violence are the results of sin in the world. While it does no good for us to wallow in guilt over the prevalence of such sin, we are called to take responsibility for addressing it according to our gifts. Let that calling play a role in the conversion for which we pray and fast during this season of Lent.

(Corinne Winter is a professor-emeritus of St. Ambrose University, Davenport.)

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