We have begun the journey of reconciliation and conversion, Lent. This season of the church year is about repenting for our personal faults and sinfulness. It is about self-analysis and conversion. What do I (you) need to change?
In the readings of the season we are admonished to rend our hearts not our garments. For us that part of that may sound like a silly admonition. The ancient custom of tearing one’s garments to demonstrate penance for sins is foreign to us especially since some pay for pre-torn garments… I saw pre-torn jeans being sold for $220. Our ancestors would find that horrifying since they had a minimal wardrobe and tearing one garment meant losing a good part of your whole clothes collection. So to tear a garment was a very big sacrifice, a true act of retribution and sacrifice.
So we are challenged to make an even harder act by rending our hearts from sin. Break them open so we can gain self-knowledge – so we change from our sinful ways. St Theresa of Avila said, “one day of humble self knowledge is better than a thousand days of prayer.”
Meister Eckhart, our Dominican brother, would add, “No one can know God who does not first know herself or himself.”
Lent is a time to know ourselves; to reflect on our failings; to repent for our misdeeds; to convert to better ways of relating.
By doing so we then become the ambassadors of Christ we are challenged to be. For then we witness Christ to our world. We demonstrate how God’s grace can improve who we are and how we act. We put on Christ.
Lent challenges us how to do penance…conversion … in secret. In other words we are to avoid public displays of praising our penance. It is between God and us.
But how do we do this. The season of Lent offers us a tradition of practices. Practices of fasting and practices of acting. Practices of denying ourselves and practices of giving of ourselves.
Fasting from something we love or overindulge in can be a reminder of our need to separate ourselves from our sinful ways. We can then find ways of acting for others to bring the hope of Christ into lives most in need of that hope.
So what should we plan for these of Lent that are left? Our Dominican tradition would say both. We need to fast and do penance for our failings. We need to act in some form of outreach as ambassadors.
So revisit your Lenten plan. Check on your fasting. Have you given up a favorite food or beverage? Or have you given up a favorite activity? If you need to rethink your Lenten practice could you give up texting or cellphone use for an hour? Could you give up noise and spend an hour in quiet? But when you yearn for the food or beverage…when you go to reach for the phone or the ipod to shatter the silence do so remembering what you are repenting from…what you need to convert. Is it pride or anger or lust or envy or…make each time you yearn for what you have given up as a fast a time to deepen your resolve for conversion.
But also act… reach out to the isolated one in your life or call the family member who is ill or hurting; forgive someone who has hurt you; volunteer at a place that serves the poor; attend church more often etc. Find something to do as a resolve to repent. Each time you do it repent again.
We must repent and we must act.
Maya Angelou in a commencement address said it this way:
And you will see injustice
At the end of your fingertips
You will find cruelties
Irrational hate, bedrock sorrow
And terrifying loneliness
There is your work
…increase virtue in your world.
This season the Church says look to yourself and you will find sin. Look to yourself and develop virtue. Look to yourself and increase virtue in your world…Lent is about increasing virtue. What virtues will you increase?