Posted by: L. E. Barnes | March 9, 2011

A Deeper Conversion

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Growing up as a charismatic evangelical, I didn’t observe this season–or any other part of the liturgical calendar, for that matter. Now that I am Catholic, Lent is becoming an increasingly more important part of my life.

This Easter will mark my fourth year as a Catholic, and with Lent now upon us, I am trying to take serious stock of my spiritual development over these past few years. Questions flood my mind: Have I been a good Catholic? Have I truly put the Lord first in my life?  Is the Lord pleased with me?  What can I do better?

This evening I attended mass at my parish–one of several masses held today, and the turnout was quite large. Like all the other attendees I went forward to have ashes applied to my forehead as a reminder of both my mortality and the need for penance. As an article from Catholic Online explains, “Being marked with ashes at the beginning of Lent indicates our recognition of the need for deeper conversion of our lives during this season of renewal.”

And this what I seek most of all this Lent: deeper conversion. How do Lenten practices help us achieve this? Probably the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think of Lent is “giving up” something they like, such as a favorite food or beverage. But the author of the aforementioned article makes an excellent point regarding the real purpose of abstinence (“fasting”) during this season:

Some years ago a friend of mine told me that he had urged his children to move beyond giving up candy to giving up some habit of sin that marked their lives. About halfway through Lent he asked the children how they were doing with their Lenten promise. One of his young sons had promised to give up fighting with his brothers and sisters during Lent. When his father asked him how it was going, the boy replied, “I’m doing pretty good, Dad—but boy, I can’t wait until Easter!”

That response indicates that this boy had only partly understood the purpose of Lenten “giving up.” Lent is about conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and his way of life. That always involves giving up sin in some form. The goal is not just to abstain from sin for the duration of Lent but to root sin out of our lives forever. Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace new life in Christ…

Taking seriously this dynamic of scrutiny and conversion gives us a richer perspective on Lenten “giving up.” What we are to give up more than anything else is sin, which is to say we are to give up whatever keeps us from living out our baptismal promises fully. Along with the elect we all need to approach the season of Lent asking ourselves what needs to change in our lives if we are to live the gospel values that Jesus taught us. Our journey through these forty days should be a movement ever closer to Christ and to the way of life he has exemplified for us.

In other words, we should focus on growing in holiness, not simply denying ourselves something for a while and then going back to the way we were before Ash Wednesday! I have decided to “fast” computer games and cut down a good deal on the time I spend online; however, I realize those things aren’t enough. My prayer life has not been as strong as it could–or probably should–have been, and I recognize that I really need to work at rooting out things like pride, anger, doubt, and selfishness. Recently I saw a news report about a 14-year-old girl who resolved to do a good deed for others every day, and so far she’s been sticking to her resolution–even getting up early on Saturdays to help at a homeless shelter. People like her put me to shame! I’ve let myself become too lost in my own little world and too focused own my issues, and not doing enough for others. So this Lent, I am going to try to focus on what I can do for “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40)

If you have any advice, or if you follow any Lenten practices that you’ve found especially beneficial, let me know!

And what are your plans for Lent?

May we all be blessed with a deeper conversion this Lenten season.

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Responses

  1. I love your post! I wrote about fasting today and my struggles to decide what to do. I agree with your thoughts. God bless and Happy Lent!

    • Thanks, Colleen. God bless you as well!

  2. I’m spending a little time each day with St. Thomas Aquinas and meditating on his words. Also, I’ve given up alcohol – I like the occasional swig of wine or harder stuff. We have to deny ourselves to develop the discipline of fighting sin. I think of it as the boxing training fighters have. No daily visit to the gym and giving it all you’ve got and you’ll go down in the first round!

    • The soul trains the body; the body trains the soul.

      • Good point. The two things work on each other, so we should think holistically.

    • I’ve never studied the writings of Aquinas. I imagine he’s very deep!

      I’ve had to give up alcohol because of medication I take, but as I indicated in the post, there are other things for me to give up! We certainly have to do plenty of spiritual exercise to keep our minds and souls fit.

  3. I’m so glad I”m not the only one thinking that mere fasting, only to go back to the way we were before, is not particularly useful! 🙂 I admit that the beginning of Lent has been a challenge for me thus far; God is asking me to stretch farther than I anticipated doing, and in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. Gotta roll with it. But it’s hard to adjust.

    • It’s much like what I’ve heard people say about losing weight and keeping it off. People often think of terms of dieting (i.e., following a temporary regimen but then going back to ‘business as usual’–and of course they tend to gain the weight back). However, those who have maintained their weight loss speak in terms of permanent lifestyle changes, especially changing the way they look at food. Lenten fasting really should be based on the same principle–making long-term changes in our behaviors. Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to forever swear off candy or whatever, just that we need to focus on, as the quote in my post says, “deeper conversion”.


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