“A clean heart create for me O God, and a steadfast Spirit renew within me (Psalm 51:12).” This simple sentiment from Ash Wednesday’s Responsorial Psalm encapsulates the entire purpose of Lent. We are powerless to restore our own hearts to their primitive purity – our spirits to the fortitude that comes with their Baptismal Grace. Alone we can do nothing. The best we can do is to answer God’s call to “Turn to me and be saved;” admitting our human weakness, and casting our cares upon His sacred shoulders.
It sounds so simple. Our souls long to be purified; like the leper (recall the Gospel of the sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time). Like him, our inmost being cries out: “If You wish, You can make me clean (Mk: 1:40).” We hope and pray that Our Lord will respond with same tenderness and pity that He offered the leper. We desire that He will touch us too, and utter the words: “I do will it. Be made clean!”
During this season of Lent we are confronted by our need to be healed, inside and out. We see sin in all its filth; coming face to face with our own guilt, and the need to be made clean. The readings this week both in Daily Mass and the Divine Office Liturgy of the Hours rouse our consciences from the slumber of complacency to an acute awareness of the need to repent.
Thursday’s Vespers reading sets a serious task before us:
“Submit to God; resist the devil and he will take flight. Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners; purify your hearts, you backsliders. Be humbled at the sight of the Lord and He will raise you on high (James 4: 7-8, 10).”
Ouch! Those words sting! Speaking as a premier backslider, I know this isn’t going to be easy. In this reading it is as if Our Lord’s gaze meets ours – His is full of love, yet compelling us to change. Are we willing to meet His gaze? It is decision time. Find the courage, resolve, and trust – it is time to transform. We must move from invitation to action and live the call to repentance.
In today’s midmorning reading from the Divine Office, Our Lord explains that His discipline is itself a sign of His Love, and an invitation to healing.
“Whoever is dear to me I reprove and chastise. Be earnest about it, therefore. Repent! Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:19-20).”
What a beautiful call to purification in anticipation of the Great Feast! Our daily purification prepares us for the Eucharist; and subsequently readies us for the Eternal Banquet of the Lord. Just as we respond at Holy Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof; but only say the Word and I shall be healed.” Here too we are called to conversion, to accept penance, change our hearts, and open the veiled depths of our very selves to His abiding Love.
Our Loving Savior makes it clear that this call to conversion in not a static event. Merely calling His name and acknowledging His Divinity is not sufficient; for even the demons know Jesus name, and acknowledge His authority. We are called to go beyond mere recognition to take up our crosses and truly follow Him. We are called to enter into the mystery of our redemption; walking through desert now, and later grasping the wood of cross on the way to Calvary. Each step is to be in sync with Jesus Christ. Yes, conversion must begin today, but it must also continue as long as we draw breath and our hearts beat within the core of our flesh.
As Lent begins, we are invited into the desert, to pray and fast with Our Lord. Here, “among the wild beasts” we too will be tempted by Satan (Mk: 1:12-13). Armed with prayer, fasting and alms-giving, we will draw close to Our Lord. We will cooperate with His grace and conquer the personal demons that seek to distract us from the ultimate Good with which our souls long to be satisfied. With confidence, we are called to embark upon this journey, together with He by Whom we are known to be Loved. The call to repent is urgent, and our immediate response is sought. As Our Lord states in the Gospel: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel (Mk 13-15).”
Now is the acceptable time!
As we journey from Ashes to Easter, together may we pray:
“Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of Your Son’s death and resurrection and teach us to reflect it in our lives. Grant this through our Lord, Jesus Christ Your Son Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever, Amen. (Divine Office, Sunday Evening, Week 1, Lent).”
Ad Jesus per Mariam