Open the heart to conversion and repentance

The winter has gone on long enough. People say, “I am so sick of winter. I can’t wait for spring.”
Perhaps you may have said this yourself or at least thought it. We do get tired of the coldness and the
“dead of winter” where there seems to be the absence of new growth and new life.

As we look out our windows, all we see is dirty snow or barren ground. The colors around us are drab,
and flower bulbs in the frozen soil are yearning to break through, waiting to be transformed into the new
life of spring. All of us know that if we wait long enough, if we live in faithful hope, this Old Man
Winter will be transformed and we will see the changes in creation for which we have been waiting.

For Christians who enter into the upcoming season of Lent, in similar ways we, too, are like Old Man
Winter waiting to break forth into new life. But before we can experience the new life of spring, we
must live through the dark days of a spiritual winter. This paradox constitutes the season of Lent — a
spiritual winter as a season of grace — which is just around the corner, beginning on March 5.

To what is the season of Lent calling us? More than a calling, Lent is inviting us to metanoia (in Greek),
a conversion of heart and a growing desire for repentance. Conversion is the gradual shift from what I
want for my life to a greater priority and preference for what God wants for my life. This metanoia
happens when we begin to see our true selves, with all the imperfections, and believe that God still loves
us in spite of them. That is the beauty of conversion. It is the work of God loving us into holiness.

When we truly accept our weaknesses as being harmful to ourselves and others and leading us away
from the Lord, we will be able to begin the conversion process. When we are honest with ourselves
about who we are and remove the masks we wear, we will encounter the bursting forth of spring in our
lives. The bursting forth of spring is the love of God in Christ Jesus who came among us — the real
grace of conversion.

As Pope Francis shared in his Lenten Message for this year, “By making himself poor, Jesus did not
seek poverty for its own sake but, as Saint Paul says, ‘that by his poverty you might become rich’ ( 2
Cor. 8:9). This is no mere play on words or a catch phrase. Rather, it sums up God’s logic, the logic of
love, the logic of the incarnation and the cross. God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven,
like someone who gives alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety.“Christ’s love is different! When Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John
the Baptist, he did so not because he was in need of repentance, or conversion; he did it to be among
people who need forgiveness, among us sinners, and to take upon himself the burden of our sins. In this
way he chose to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery.” From this we see that the work of
metanoia is the Lord’s work in us.

When we think of our lives in such a way, we have no need to hide behind any mask or have fear of
what life will bring. We can only respond in gratitude. For those of us who have been baptized, the
season of Lent is about responding more fully to what God is offering us. For those catechumens among
us who have not yet been baptized, this season is about preparing for the promise that will be offered in
their upcoming baptism: new life in Christ.

A journey into the season of Lent, while it affords us the opportunity to look inward, if taken seriously,
will always lead us outward in the service of charity towards our brothers and sisters.

Prayer, fasting, and alms giving are the keys which open the door to the service of this charity and lead
us into an interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who through
dying on the cross gave his entire self for us. When we share what we have with others, we discover that
the fullness of life comes from love and the Lord rewards us with a blessing in the form of peace, inner
satisfaction and joy. We call this “conversion” because conversion always leads to greater love of God
and neighbor. This is the work of the Lord in us. This is why the season of Lent is a season of grace —
the grace of Christ flowing freely.

Regardless of who we are — a longtime Catholic or a catechumen — Lent is an exciting time for those
who choose to enter into the season with a genuine desire for conversion. God desires us more than we
desire God and wants to do great things for us. Will we accept the invitation?