Opening Our Hearts to God


4 Mar 2017

This week we celebrated Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The ashes Catholics receive on Ash Wednesday remind us of our humanity and mortality. They are a biblical symbol of repentance, sorrow and humility. Lent is something of a spiritual detox: a new springtime, as the name suggests. It allows the opportunity to pause, reflect, recalibrate our priorities and purge our systems of the selfishness and hurt which hinders us being fully open to God’s love. Lent offers an occasion to rediscover the love of God which awaits us all.

Lent asks us to consider our relationships – our relationship with God (prayer) others (almsgiving) and the self (sacrifice). It is an opportunity to reopen our hearts to God. We seek to be renewed, re-committed and re-born in grace and goodness to follow Jesus. The Examen can help deepen our reflection on our activities and appreciation of God in our life. Lent is a special time of metanoia – of conversion and repentance – leaving behind an old way of acting in order to embrace new life in Christ.

Almsgiving encourages us to show compassion and respond, where needed, to those in difficulty. It invites us to share what we have with those most in need – to show compassion and love for others. It may be those on the margins in our family, the school community, at work or elsewhere beyond our comfort zones. The mark of a good community is not how much it supports itself but its capacity to reach beyond itself to the deepest needs of the world.

The act of fasting encourages us to redirect the heart away from worldly activities – to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful habits. It reminds us to practice self-discipline, self-control and to have empathy and show kindness for those who are less fortunate. It encourages us to give up superfluities and to be more in solidarity with those who have little. During Lent we typically give up certain comforts such as luxury foods or we do something extra such as making more time for prayer or commit to a charitable activity within our family or community. Many track their screen time and some do a ‘digital detox’. Penitence is not just for the sake of giving up something, rather it is to change previous ways of being with the aim of finding balance, reconciliation and a better life.

Acts of sacrifice – giving things up or taking things up – are exercises to strengthen our spiritual freedom. Freedom involves looking at our motives and allowing our self to be drawn to that which is good and not trapped by what is not. We may need to attempt to transform a difficult situation that comes our way rather than merely to re-act it. When discussing strategies to handle temptations, Ignatius spoke of agere contra – to move against. Where something is out of balance Ignatius encouraged us to change the pattern of our behaviour and move in the opposite direction. If we are wasting time, then we become more industrious and diligent or we choose to face rather than avoid a fear. Lent can be a time for self-honesty in areas where we are over reliant. For all our self-justifications, we know such things can cause us to lose our way.

In many parishes communal penitential services are a part of Church culture during Lent. These liturgies will often focus on a theme of lament. Jewish people wrote about lament in their Psalms and sacred literature. They were familiar with the despair that came with invasion, drought, famine, plague, violence and war. Lament must go forward to positive action. We should weep with the dispossessed and those who are shown little compassion in the face of hardship. We should gather again to do what is good and noble and right.

May we take time this Lent to lament and to transform our relationships by prayer, service and sacrifice to that which is good and noble and right.

Peter Hosking, SJ, is the Rector of St Aloysius College, Milsons Point.
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