A Time For Returning To Christ

by Joseph Marcello

Lent is, first and foremost, a time for returning to Christ. We will soon celebrate the death of Jesus and his rising to new life. In order to fittingly prepare for the most sacred time of the year, we must die to ourselves and our former ways if we are to live to Christ. As the Ash Wednesday readings remind us, "now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 5)

One of the most familiar of Jesus' parables is that of the Prodigal Son. A young man squanders his inheritance and leads a dissolute life, but when he comes to his senses and contritely presents himself to his father, he is welcomed with great love and rejoicing.

We are all prodigal sons and daughters of God. Each of us has turned away from God through sin. There is always the temptation to think that our sins are too great to be forgiven by God. Maybe ours has been a life unworthy of our Christian inheritance. Perhaps we have been away from the Church and the Sacraments for years, even decades. Even so, Saint Maximus the Confessor, an abbot who lives in the fifth century, teaches thus:

"Christ proclaimed that he had come to call sinners to repentance, not the righteous, and that it was not the healthy who required a doctor, but the sick. He declared that he had come to look for the sheep that was lost, and that it was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel that he had been sent."

It is good to remember, especially in this season of Lent, that God's love and mercy are infinitely greater than our sins. Think again of the parable of the prodigal son. Saint Maximus continues:

"Jesus told of how that Father, who is goodness itself, was moved with pity for his profligate son who returned and made amends by repentance; how he embraced him, dressed him once more in the fine garments that befitted his own dignity, and did not reproach him for any of his sins."

There is no better way to seek reconciliation with God than to make a good, complete and worthy confession and Lent is the perfect time to do just that. All of our sins are swallowed up and obliterated in the endless ocean of God's mercy when we receive absolution from one of Christ's priests. We must never forget that the road to heaven passes through the confessional.

This is not to say that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is only for those who stand in serious need of forgiveness. Everyone benefits enormously from the graces poured out in this sacrament, as it strengthens us to live out our Christian commitment in the midst of a broken world. There is no one so close to God that he cannot draw still closer; there is no one so far from God that he cannot return in an instant.

To compliment and strengthen our interior conversion, Lent is an especially opportune time to perform works of charity in imitation of Jesus, and, in so doing, to atone for our sins and to bring the presence of Christ to our brothers and sisters. This was the advice of Saint Leo the Great, a pope who also lived in the fifth century:

"Any time is the right time for works of charity, but these days of Lent provide a special encouragement. Those who want to be present at the Lord's Passover in holiness of mind and body should seek above all to with this grace, for charity contains all other virtues and covers a multitude of sins."

This increased emphasis on charity, combined with the traditional Lenten acts of penance such as almsgiving and fasting, combined with the reception of the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist, cannot help but bring us into a deeper relationship with our crucified Lord.

Thus, as we journey from ashes to Easter, the Church and Christ himself invite us in this very special time of the Church's year, to turn away from sin and to grow in our faithfulness to the Gospel. Few things relate to us the solemn beauty of this holy season more powerfully than the sacred music which we sing at Mass during Lent. Let us conclude, then, by meditating on the beautiful words to three verses from the well-known Lenten hymn, Lord, who throughout these forty days:

Lord, who throughout these forty days,
For us did fast and pray,
Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins,
And close by Thee to stay.

As Thou with Satan did contend,
And did the vict'ry win,
O give us strength in Thee to fight,
In Thee to Conquer sin.

As Thou did hunger bear and thirst,
So teach us, gracious Lord,
To die to self and chiefly live
By Thy most holy word.

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