A Path to Conversion
At the end of this month, we will begin one of the Church’s major seasons: Lent. Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting, inaugurates this time that will prepare us for the grand celebration of Easter.
Prayer, Fasting and Penance
Maybe the three things the Church asks us to do during Lent are acknowledged in our homes, but it could happen that we live them out superficially. They can become external actions that have no effect in our interior life and path to holiness. If that is the case, wait no longer! Let us strive to live this Lent more intensely. These three elements must be brought down to the specifics: See how we can intensify our prayer life, what kind of fast God wants of me, how I can go toward my conversion.
Obviously, something very useful to answer these questions is to consult with your spiritual director; he will help see God’s will clearer. Setting time aside for prayer helps us to persevere in our resolutions. It is one thing to say, “I will pray more,” but another thing to say, “Every day at 8:00 a.m., I will pray for half an hour.” Deciding what we do during prayer time also helps: “I will meditate on the Mass readings,” “I will meditate on a scene from the Passion each day,” or “I will read a certain book slowly and draw spiritual benefit from it.”
The same goes for fasting. The Church gives us specific days to intensify fasting: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. But all Fridays during Lent are special days for fasting and penance, and that may be extended to all forty days of Lent. Generally, fasting applies to eating: We deprive ourselves of a specific food or limit the quantity. Many people do voluntary fasts, but not with the desire to do penance and purify themselves but rather for superficial reasons. They could be ideological reasons (vegans are an example), social reasons, hunger strikes, to keep one’s figure, etc. Yet Christians are called to fast because by voluntarily depriving ourselves of pleasures we receive from food and other goods, we help control the appetites of our fallen nature due to original sin. This is why fasting can apply to other things that are not food. We can fast from using our phone, from TV, internet, superficial conversations and from going out. We must place ourselves before God sincerely to see what He asks of us. Still, it is always good to fast at least a little bit from food. Each person must examine what to fast from.
And penance? It could be the exact observance of our duties, even if our body rebels; getting up as soon as the alarm rings; not putting off difficult tasks without a good reason; treating others with maximum charity; responding patiently; bearing the thousand small setbacks of everyday life with humor; or eating thankfully what we are served.
Repent and Believe in the Gospel!
In the end, prayer, fasting and penance are ways to facilitate our conversion. Their objective is to empty our heart of the world and ourselves to be filled with God. We are called to be full of Him and to convert. He promised, “I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). This promise gives us great joy. He desires to rip out our heart, hardened by sin, and make it heart of flesh, that is, a heart like His. It is the path to conversion that lasts our whole life.
I Ask You to Amend Your Lives
Garabandal’s messages also speak about penance and conversion: “We must make many sacrifices, do much penance, and visit the Blessed Sacrament frequently. But first, we must lead good lives … If we do not change, a very great chastisement will come upon us” (first message). “I, your Mother, through the intercession of Saint Michael the Archangel, ask you to amend your lives. You are now receiving the last warnings” (second message). Our Blessed Mother does not say these words just to frighten us; she says them to incite us to convert. They are warnings. We can imagine these words added on: “Do it!” “What are you waiting for?”
This is another risk we run during the major liturgical seasons: “Tomorrow… tomorrow…” St. Augustine said, “How long, how long ‘tomorrow, and tomorrow?’ Why not now?” If you desire salvation, if you want to love God and give Him everything, do not wait any longer. May this day be the day of your grand conversion and going back to God. Have a receptive attitude to receive His grace. Open your heart to Him completely and do not deny Him anything from now on. The Virgin Mary has been warning us that the cup of God’s just wrath is filling and overflowing. What will I do to placate it?
In My Flesh I Complete What Is Lacking in Christ’s Afflictions
A verse from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians can perplex us a bit. But if we meditate on it, it comforts us greatly: “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). Is something lacking in Christ’s Passion? Perhaps it is incomplete? Could Our Savior have suffered more? No. Yet God was pleased to call us to share in His Passion and offer our sufferings along with His. Pope Benedict XVI said, “The ‘folly’ of the cross is changing our sufferings into a declaration of love for God.” It is a mystery, and St. John Paul II speaks about it in Salvifici Doloris when he says that the redemption of the world, “lives and develops as the body of Christ, the Church, and in this dimension every human suffering, by reason of the loving union with Christ, completes the suffering of Christ” (Salvifici Doloris, 24). It is as if this redemption “remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering” (ibid). Through our passive and active suffering, we can enter this mystery of redemption of humanity. The Lord called many saints to share in His Passion in very striking ways; they lived as other Christs crucified. We might not be called to that path, but suffering, whether big or small, exists in every life. We must make the most of it and give meaning to it by uniting our sufferings to the Passion of Christ. May each suffering be, “Jesus, I love You. I suffer this for love of You, for the world, for the Church and in reparation for my sins.”
This Lent, may the Lord grant us a deeper understanding of how much He loves us and desires our salvation. May we truly open our heart to His saving and redeeming love.