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 | By Sister Ann Shields

Lent offers opportunities for repentance and renewal

"Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning; and rend your hearts, not your garments. Return to the Lord, your God for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…”

Lent is a time of conversion – a time to return to the Lord in whatever ways you have turned against him: in your attitudes, your conversations, your plans and goals, even in your hopes and dreams. Are you in any way choosing to do what you want, rather than what the Lord wants? Examine your conscience based on the areas I just listed.

Prepare for Lent so that when Ash Wednesday arrives, you are ready to get down to the great work of conversion. I call it a great work because when you cooperate with the Lord – not hiding your sin, not excusing it, not minimizing it, but facing it straight on – you will be amazed at the freedom the admission brings you. We spend so much energy hiding and excusing our sins and transgressions, even burying them, that we have little energy or room in our lives for all the good things God wants to give us.

Try to go to confession even before Lent begins so that you can spend the six weeks of the Lenten season actually participating in the act of conversion with the power of God’s grace. Yes, there is confession available during Lent – take advantage more than once if you can. But I want to suggest that going before Lent can be very good, if you have taken time to see the areas of your life that block God’s grace. It enables you to begin Lent with a clear conscience. Lent is much more than facing sin. That’s just the first step. God has so much of his life to share with you. We want to hate sin as God does because God knows that sin impedes his presence and his action in our lives. By sin we say no to God! Let’s get rid of it as soon as, and as often as, we recognize it.

The second suggestion is to pray the Stations of the Cross as often as you can during the six weeks of Lent. When someone we love has gone through a horrible experience, we want them to share it with us that we might, in a certain way, comfort and support them. When we make the Stations of the Cross, we accompany Jesus on his torturous journey to Calvary – step by major step. As we accompany him in our walk, station by station, the path that he walked, we begin to see more clearly what he has done for us and we are drawn to give him comfort. The greatest comfort we can give him is repentance for our sins – clearing out our lives from those sins that brought Christ to Calvary in the first place.

The stations can be prayed privately, as well as with parishioners during a Lenten service. But they can often be prayed alone in the church – any hour that the church is open and Mass is not being celebrated. Most parishes will have prayer books or booklets available to accompany your “journey” around the church – step by step with Jesus. Ponder each one for a few moments. Then pray: one Our Father, one Hail Mary, one Glory be … (Other prayers may be available through parish prayer booklets.)

Three other areas that you might want to explore during Lent: Learn to grow in thanksgiving to God by daily thanking him for all the blessings that have come to you. We are such a self-focused people that we center our thoughts much more on what we don’t have than on what we do. Such ingratitude blocks us spiritually and we can miss the graces God is pouring down upon us because we want or think we need something else. Look at what God has given you, done for you. Thank him – daily!

Third, in the area of fasting: How about doing this for Lent? Fast from selfish thoughts and acts. Fast from jealousy and envy. Fast from greed. Fast from negative speech.

The verse from the prophet Joel, quoted at the beginning of this article asks us to rend our hearts, not our garments. In other words, let our sacrifices during Lent be simple and quiet and unobtrusive. Don’t let the world know what you are giving up and God, who sees all, will reward.

Finally, as you walk through Lent, love others with the love you receive from God. Sit at the fountain of life and drink deeply and then you will have much to give!

Sister Ann Shields is a member of the Servants of God’s Love.

This article was originally published January 2013.