“Return to me with all your heart.” (Jl 2:12) At times we enter into Lent putting the emphasis on our wanting God to return to us. But it is certainly a startling thought to hear God pleading for our return.
In the writing of Joel, God is begging Israel to return, “For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness and relenting in punishment.” (Jl 2:13)
How are we to hear these words of God, in Joel, for ourselves this Lent? God is begging us to return. The return is made easier by realizing that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness and relenting in punishment.
We may have heard various words to describe what Lent is all about, reconciliation, conversion, repentance, penance, maybe even metanoia. For me a simplified version of what Lent can mean was described by Mary Jo Tully. Reconciliation is “being hugged by God.” It is possible to think of Lent as our returning to the loving arms of the Father. What do we experience from a good hug? I believe we are affirmed in our own goodness. But reconciliation calls us to more, to conversion. In a recent homily Pope Francis encouraged us to “remember when we first felt God’s love.” If we forget we risk becoming lukewarm. He also remarked “We must evoke our memory so as not to lose the beautiful experience of that first love which feeds our hope.”
A parishioner once said to Fr. Virgil Elizondo at the San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio: “I like to come to San Fernando because in hearing the words of Jesus explained to me, I discover good things about myself I had never suspected, and I can’t wait to leave church so I can put them into action.” That is a beautiful description of the conversion that we are called to this Lent: to discover the goodness within us that we have not yet activated and put it into action. The Gospel call to conversion is “Good News.” When we return to God with our whole heart and let ourselves be hugged by God we make contact with our own goodness. By putting that goodness into action we become bearers of the “Good News”.
In reading about centering prayer some years past I came upon this advice. Choose a mantra of seven syllables to repeat. Taking inspiration from the Psalms and my own aspirations I came upon this mantra: STEAD-FAST-SPIR-IT-OF FER-VOR. It was my prayer to God, but looking back I see that it was also a description of the God who calls: “Return to me with all your heart.” On a recent retreat the following words emerged: “Foster the development of the new creativity.” It was my prayer to God but this Lent I’m going to let it be God’s words to me.
Perhaps this Lent we are being called to become more conscious of what our God is like and what God is asking of us. We are to shift the emphasis from what we are asking of God to what God is asking of us.. May Lent be for us this type of reconciliation and conversion adventure.
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