“Repent and believe in the Gospel” – the call we received from Christ on Ash Wednesday – is a radical call, the most important call we will ever receive. It directs our attention to uprooting all that is sinful in our lives and to ever more fully live lives of love – for friend and foe alike – with a special emphasis on the vulnerable and poor. It’s a radical call that is meant to be heard, reflected on, and acted upon beyond the season Lent – throughout all the seasons of our lives!
In the Gospel, the biblical word used for repent is the Greek word “metanoia” – a radical change of mind, heart, soul and action. It happens when one changes course and turns around to walk in the right direction – walking out of the darkness of our lives and into the light of Christ. Metanoia means a life-changing conversion. That’s what Jesus is calling us to when he says “repent!”
Think of some of the great saints who deeply repented, who truly experienced a metanoia.
St Paul did a complete about face. He went from persecuting the followers of Christ, to championing their cause and suffering with them.
St Augustine of Hippo turned from fleeting unmarried sexual pleasure and unsatisfying philosophical pursuits to a totally fulfilling surrender to the will of God. In his famous autobiographical “Confessions” he sums it all up so well: “You [God] have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
When you and I allow our heart to rest in God, we become a new creation, fully dedicated to advancing his kingdom. But this takes humility, honesty, selflessness, much prayer and hard work. True repentance (conversion) is not for the faint-hearted!
The renowned Catholic English writer G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
And making it even more difficult, a life dedicated to listening to the Holy Spirit concerns itself not only with personal repentance/metanoia, but also with the conversion of the nation, that is, praying and working to change in our country what St Pope John Paul II called the “structures of sin” – everything from abortion to war – into structures of life, love, social justice, peace.
In this year’s Lenten message, Pope Francis encouragingly writes, “To experience Lent with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In these days of deep uncertainty about the future, let us keep in mind the Lord’s word to his Servant, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you’ (Is 43:1). In our charity, may we speak words of reassurance and help others to realise that God loves them as sons and daughters.”
“Only a gaze transformed by charity can enable the dignity of others to be recognised and, as a consequence, the poor to be acknowledged and valued in their dignity, respected in their identity and culture, and thus truly integrated into society” (Fratelli Tutti, 187).
As one important concrete way of charity, please consider a selfless Lenten donation to the poorest of the poor.
Let us pray that the God of love, the God who is love, will transform all our gazes into gazes of charity, thus inspiring us to recognise the dignity of each poor person near and far, and to therefore do all in our power – as individuals and governments – to help lift our brothers and sisters out of poverty into the decent dignified conditions of life they deserve.
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at email@example.com.