Enter the journey

And the journey begins again. Welcome to Lent. How wonderful it is to be reminded that God loves and forgives us no matter what, and that we, the Church, are in this together. Know and live the symbolism of the ashes that you received this week and may this marking with a cross made of ashes on your forehead remind each and everyone of us of our mortality, the strength we need to be contrite, and the gentleness to accept conversion. God created us so that we may realize His life in us, the gift of grace. This Lenten journey will help us to know that.

What are you doing over these 40 days of Lent that will give you the strength to act justly, the courage to love tenderly and the faith to walk humbly with God? I asked this question to a class of sixth graders recently and the responses were what one would expect: give up candy, give up soda, give up snacks, spend less time on my iPhone, playing video games, and, help my parents around the house. To sixth graders those are some big sacrifices. It takes a strong will to carry this through to the end. Whatever you’ve decided to do during Lent will you see it through to Easter and make it count?

Lent is a test of our Spiritual strength and our patience. “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength,” said St. Francis de Sales. During this time of year I’m reminded of these words of St. Francis in the hope that I will live my Lent with gentleness and the patience to serve others in the hope that their lives will be made better. But, I’ve also learned an important lesson — I realize that my real strength lies in knowing that I have changed. 

All of us need to change. The world needs to change. Sometimes it’s impressed upon us that strength in our world is used for violence. Instead of using what we have to help and comfort those around us we use it for personal gain. There is no gentleness in that kind of strength. How we change that depends on our relationship with God and not being afraid to be gentle in this world. Gentleness is seen in a person’s character. And that character is the person we are in the Lord. This makes us precious in the sight of God. 

Lent is not a time to stand idle. It is a time for action. If you see something that is wrong will you just stand back and do nothing? If no one challenges a wrongdoing it’s like telling the world it’s acceptable. It takes guts, it takes great strength to stand up and be counted. Just as violent behavior is a cover-up for fear, so is our silence. If we know something is wrong, we need to speak up and take action. Doing nothing is the same as agreeing with the evil around us, and, therefore, is like becoming a part of it. 

To be gentle means to be humble, and so filled with love and compassion, that we simply couldn’t harm anyone or anything. It takes great strength to be like this. Every one of us has the potential to be like this. Whether we want to admit it or not, this kind of commitment and gentle strength is what it really takes to be the Body of Christ, the Church. And if some of us are thinking and saying to ourselves, “I know this is true, but this isn’t for me,” then what is this journey you are on all about? Isn’t it to lead us to the Kingdom of God?

It’s time to stand up and be counted. It’s time to separate ourselves from the ways of the world, and dare to be different, dare to be like Christ, outwardly and inwardly. It’s easy to go along with the world. Not only are we being called to be imitators of Jesus Christ, we are also to present ourselves in such a way that others can be imitators of us, and thus be imitators of Christ. And this takes great strength. 

So, during this Lent, we have a choice to make: Are we going to be part of this world or part of the Kingdom of God? I offer this Lenten prayer as we begin to make this choice: 

Lord, strengthen us on our journey so that we look past the doubts and fears which tempt us to abandon our Lenten efforts to live justly as God’s people. You created us from the dust of the earth and breathed Your own life into our very being. You recreated us in Christ through the waters of Baptism so that we might share as a people Your fullness of life. May our fasting strengthen us to seek Your justice; may our prayer lead us to become makers of peace; may our sharing quicken the seeds of Your reign, present in all human hearts, and growing in mystery, as we await with joyful anticipation the Resurrection of Jesus Your Son. 

Amen. 

Anchor columnist Ozzie Pacheco is Faith Formation director at Santo Christo Parish, Fall River.

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