We are firmly into the holy season of Lent. As the minister imposed the ashes on our foreheads, he/she said: “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel!” The mark of the ashes on our foreheads reminds us that we want to put on an attitude of humble submission and sincere sorrow. The word used in the Scriptures for conversion is “metanoia” which means “change of heart.” The project of Lent is all about change – change of heart, change of attitude and change of behavior. During this time of grace we seek to move away from our sinful ways and align ourselves with the standards of the Gospel.
When I was a young seminarian I saw an American movie entitled “Love Story” featuring Ryan O’Neill and Ali McGraw. It was a real tear-jerker. To promote it the billboards displayed a slogan which read: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry!” Sadly the contrary is true. From our experience we know that we hurt most of all the people we love. We need to beg for forgiveness from them all the time. This is even more true in our relationship with the Lord. We continue to sin in spite of our good intentions and we have the constant need to say sorry.
There is a well-known personage in the Bible who really understood the beauty of the gift of God’s forgiveness. King David not only committed adultery but also murdered the husband to cover up his crime. When Prophet Nathan brought him to his senses, the king confessed his sin. As a mark of his conversion David composed one of the most moving prayers in the Sacred Scriptures, known as the “Miserere”. We recite that prayer often during the season of Lent.
The opening lines of that prayer – also known as Psalm 51 – go like this: “Have mercy on me, O God, in your kindness, and blot out my offense! My sin is always before me.” As we enter into this season of grace, we need to pray Psalm 51 both communally and individually. Let us use these forty days to become aware of our sins and to run to God’s boundless mercy. With King David let us cry out: “Create in me a clean heart and a steadfast spirit!” This is what opening our hearts to the Lord means. Recognizing our sinfulness, we are ready to open our hearts to His grace and forgiveness. It is in that spirit of conversion that during Lenten Masses we kneel and confess our sins. We approach the Eucharist with contrite and humble hearts.
Our parish offers many opportunities to nurture our spirit of sorrow during this time. I encourage you to participate in our Lenten Mission which will be preached by me. The theme for the mission is “Open your Hearts to the Lord.” There will be presentations on Monday (March 13), Tuesday (March 14), and Wednesday (March 15). The sessions will take place in the Holy Family Chapel and the same talks will be presented in the morning and evening. This mission will hopefully enable us to build our spiritual life on the foundation of God’s love. He loved us first. The first session will demonstrate that God not only loves us, but that He is also in love with us.
I preached this mission nine years ago at our parish before I became pastor of St Paul of the Cross. In fact while doing the mission I got to know the parish and I felt drawn to apply to become pastor here. The scope of the mission is very simple. We are called upon to draw closer to the Lord. However, it is not our doing. When we are children, we relate to God as children. Just as we interact with our parents, we try to win God’s approval by good behavior and good deeds. As we get to be adults, we realize that God’s love is not won; it is a given. As grownups, in our spiritual life we must graduate from a filial relationship to a romance with God. Once we fall in love with the Lord, our whole spiritual life will change. Prayer, faith, surrender to God’s will, joy and many other aspects of our relationship with God will completely transform.
God is madly in love with us. He is passionate about us. He orchestrates everything for our maximum benefit. Even if I were the only person in the world, God would not love me any differently. The great St Augustine said these memorable words in this regard: “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
If God loves us romantically, we need to love Him the same way. Let us implore the Holy Spirit to enable us to fall in love with the Lord. I will leave you with the words of Padre Arrupe who used to the Superior General of the Jesuits. Here are his words:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.
Let us avail ourselves of all these opportunities to bring about true conversion within ourselves. May we come to Easter with clean hearts and steadfast spirits!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...