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Wednesday , 27 March 2024

Conversion of the heart: A Lenten exodus

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Monsignor Joselito C. Asis
Monsignor Joselito C. Asis
Rev. Msgr. Joselito 'Litoy' C. Asis is the Chaplain to the Filipinos, Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Lent sets our hearts towards conversion. It is our spiritual exodus, a journey away from all that alienates us from God towards our inner liberation—freedom from slavery to sin towards the fullness of life as beloved children of God. Lent is a graced moment to effect the conversion of heart and interior penance. This endeavour of conversion is not just human work. It is the movement of a “contrite heart,” drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God, who loved us first.

Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time, it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace.

Attaining interior penance and conversion

The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in various ways. Scripture and the Fathers of the Church insist above all on three forms: fasting, prayer and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering and endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. 

Through the traditional practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer, which are an expression of our commitment to conversion, Lent teaches us how to live the love of Christ in an ever more radical way. 

a. Fasting.

It can have various motivations and has profound religious significance for Christians. By rendering our table poorer, we learn to overcome selfishness to live in the logic of gift and love; by bearing some form of deprivation – and not just what is in excess – we learn to look away from our “ego”, to discover Someone close to us and to recognise God in the face of so many brothers and sisters. For Christians, fasting, far from being depressing, opens us ever more to God and to the needs of others, thus allowing the love of God to become also the love of our neighbour (cf. Mk 12: 31). 

b. Almsgiving.

The practice of almsgiving represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, is an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods. Almsgiving teaches us the generosity of love. Almsgiving can be linked to fasting. Money saved from giving up superfluities may be redirected to helping those who do not have necessities for life. Why not take the money that would be spent on that fancy meal you decided to forego and give it to those who do not know where their next meal is coming from? 

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c. Prayer.

“Prayer is the lifting up of mind and heart to God” (St. Teresa of Avila). “Prayer is a partnership and union with God. It does not mean the prayer of outward observance, but prayer from the heart, not confined to fixed times or periods but continuous throughout the day and night” (St. John Chrysostom). During the entire Lenten period, the Church offered us God’s Word in particular abundance. By meditating and internalising the Word in order to live it every day, we learn a precious and irreplaceable form of prayer; by attentively listening to God, who continues to speak to our hearts, we nourish the itinerary of faith initiated on the day of our Baptism. 

Lenten preparation for Easter

1. Lent is about turning back to God; God is always turned towards us and looking for contact and communication (“Turn to me and be saved”, Isaiah 45:22). The Israelites in the desert were forgetful and had to be reminded by Moses about all the good things God had done for them (Deut 26:1-11). 

2. Reconciliation, or healing our life, is possible only through realising that we are forgiven, even though we don’t deserve it. We can recall the story of the Prodigal Son, the classic Lenten text, in the light of God’s great love for us through Christ, his amazing love and self-gift. 

3. Inevitably, Lent involves a commitment to change through this free gift of God’s love, a conversion of heart and priorities that will mean decisions and doing things differently. 

4. Easter Sunday will then take on its fuller meaning: that we have died with Christ on Good Friday to our ‘old selves’ and destructive ways and have been ‘re-born’ on Easter Sunday with Christ to a new life in him. Easter always has strong echoes of Baptism for us as we touch the water, hear the words and celebrate with our communities. 

Lent is a time to become more aware of what life is about. I want to become more aware of how I want to use my life, my gifts, and my education. I also want to become more aware of the needs of others and realise that real fulfilment comes in making my contribution to building a more just society for all. Let us use this Lenten time in a really constructive way.

Monsignor Joselito C. Asis
Monsignor Joselito C. Asis
Rev. Msgr. Joselito 'Litoy' C. Asis is the Chaplain to the Filipinos, Archdiocese of Melbourne.

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