“It” starts tomorrow, Ash Wednesday.
What is it ? Lent is the forty days of preparation for Holy Week and Easter.
Why do we have it ? To accept in a more intense way the invitation of Jesus to be more closely united with Him on the cross, thereby dying with Him to sin, selfishness, Satan, and eternal death, so to rise with Him on Easter Sunday to a more radiant life of grace, mercy, and spiritual rebirth.
How do we do it ? Through the three ancient Lenten practices: prayer, sacrifice, and charity.
A newsman asked me if I have any practical counsel for Lent.
“Yes,” I replied. “Get back to confession.”
This sacrament of penance is most associated with this season of Lent.
There is no better time to approach this sacrament of reconciliation than before Easter.
Last week I made my annual retreat with thirty-five other priests from the archdiocese in Ars, a tiny village in southwestern France.
That village had a legendary pastor, or curé — the Curé of Ars — by the name of John Vianney for forty-one years. While there, he converted the town, and, a case can be made, all of France, simply by hearing confessions. By the time of his death in 1859, they had built a new train station to handle the thousands who came weekly to approach the confessional of the humble, holy pastor now venerated as the patron saint of priests.
We priests knelt before that simple wooden confessional a lot last week, preparing for our own confession on retreat, and praying, at my request, for a renewal of the sacrament of penance in our own parishes and archdiocese.
A good friend of mine is pastor of a bustling, prestigious parish in a large city. He loves it, and they, him. A couple of years ago he shocked them one Sunday when, in his sermon he announced that, as much as he enjoyed being their pastor, he had asked the archbishop for a transfer. When the congregation gasped, he explained:
‘Well, I don’t think you need me. See, you must all be saints. I was sent to serve sinners. But, apparently there are none here in this parish, because I sit in the confessional with no customers!”
We’re called to be saints, but we’re sure not there yet. And a great help to get there is the sacrament of penance.
And Lent is a grand time to return to it!
A blessed Lent !