“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to Me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.”
For the last two days we have been prepared through the preaching of God’s priests for the beginning of this grace-filled season of Lent. This is the time for repentance, for turning from our sinful ways, for uprooting the ever-growing weeds of vicious inclinations in the garden of our souls and for planting there the seeds of new virtue.
There are thus two aspects to repentance: turning from evil and striving for good. Fr. Gregory noted yesterday that even the souls of the just, those who were saved at their passing from this life, often enough caved in to self-pity, to worldly thinking, and thus to esteeming God’s grace but lightly. If they do so no more, nevertheless it stands as a challenge for us not to wait as they did until penance is without merit. For surely all of us are tempted and fall in these ways, but there is no necessity that we do so in the future. We have to be strong in the face of the suffering that letting go of our deeply-held self-coddling and training our flesh to take second place requires.
And Fr. Justin told us on Monday that we can face the awful reality of that suffering by loving Christ crucified. If we love someone very deeply, he said, we are ready to suffer for him. But how do we come to love what is so repugnant to nature? Only by seeing in the cross, only by finding in the Crucified what is good, supremely good, compellingly good.
And how do you find in your heart what escapes your eyes? Prayer. More prayer, more frequent prayer, more fervent prayer. Yes, intercessory prayer—praying for family and loved ones—but more especially meditation, mental prayer, considering our Lord’s mysteries and all the “love-bound omnipotence” that blazes through His every word and gesture, in particular His Passion and Death.
Only love for Christ will give us the strength to apply the divine logic to the last and least conclusion in our lives, to deny ourselves complacency in food and drink, ease and luxury, entertainment and comfort, “and all that the genius of modern science is still inventing.” Utámur ergo párcius/verbis, cibis et pótibus,/somno, jocis et árctius/perstémus in custódia. Only love for Christ will make us need to offer expiation for our own sins and those of the whole world. Only love for Christ can turn the daily death to self into a daily resurrection to glory.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of repentance. We only begin with the desire for the end. We only do penance with the hope of heaven. We remind ourselves today that we will die so that we can focus all our love on the death of Christ at the end of Lent, knowing that if we die with Him we shall also rise with Him. Let us begin, then, boldly, with confidence. Christ crucified is waiting for us with open arms.