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FEBRUARY 23, 2004

 

 

 

In His Light

by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

The Lenten journey – repentance and renewal

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

In a few days we begin Lent. On Ash Wednesday, when we are signed with a cross of ashes, we are once again told to “turn away from sin and [to] be faithful to the Gospel.” This admonition is, St. Mark reports, the heart of the message with which Jesus began his public ministry: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel’” (Mk 1:14-15).

Repent and believe! Believe and repent! This is a distillation into its basic components of what God expects of us.

These two actions – conversion and accepting the message of Christ – are the essence of every Lenten program. This is the basic contour of what each of us does for Lent, whether we are catechumens, second graders in the First Communion class, middle-age cradle Catholics, or even veterans of decades of life in the cloister. For all of us, Lent is 40 days dedicated to beginning again with the fundamentals: repenting and believing.

Therefore, what I’d like to reflect on this week is the connection between conversion and evangelization – the unbreakable link between accepting what Christ teaches and putting off what is contrary to His likeness.

In my effort to understand the connection between believing and repentance I was led to Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical “On the Mercy of God” (“Dives in misericordia.”)

The Holy Father writes that “it is precisely because sin exists in the world, which ‘God so loved… that He gave His only Son’ (Jn 3:16), that God, who ‘is love’ (1 Jn 4:8) cannot reveal Himself otherwise than as mercy.” (n. 13). Here the Pope is reminding us that when God’s love comes into our world, because the world is scarred by sin, His love has the particular quality of mercy.

Yes, God’s love as mercy for sinners is what accounts for the unbreakable link between belief and repentance. When we accept who Jesus is and what He says, when we believe in Him as our Savior from sin, then we cannot not start down the path of repentance.

Those who really know Jesus as the revelation of the Father’s love for sinners will find that they must put aside everything that compromises their relationship with Him. If we have truly discovered God’s tender and patient love for us sinners, the Father’s love for all his “prodigal” daughters and sons, then we must turn away from what holds us back from His embrace.

My point about the link between belief and conversion is not just an idle speculation. It has fundamental implications about how we spend the 40 days of Lent. Here are four:

1) We must get to know again the depth of God’s love for us. We have to let it sink in afresh that Jesus died for you and for me, to deliver us from our sins. This Lent we must return to the cross and see how precious each of us is to God’s heart.

2) We must humbly confess that we have not loved God back in the same measure He has loved us. We are sinners. We have preferred lots of other things to God. In fact, we have preferred our own way over God’s way for us. And if, as I look at my failings, I start to make excuses, then I know that I still haven’t gotten it right.

3) We must change. Once we know what is threatening to lead us to try to divorce ourselves from God, we must stop it. No putting it off. And part of this change is performing acts of love that atone for our past failures to love.

4) We must ask the merciful God for the help of his grace. Without that assistance we cannot believe and we cannot change.

Celebrating the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is an ordinary part of Lent for us Catholics. In Confession we have the chance to live through all of the four steps I’ve outlined above in this privileged forum consecrated to renewed belief in God’s mercy and return to His love.

My heartfelt prayer for each of you is that your Lenten Confession will be a moment of profound grace so that as you celebrate Christ’s passage from death to risen life on Easter Sunday you may pass over once again with Him into the Father’s glory.

 

Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.

BISHOP
VIGNERON