February 11, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

A time to recall, reflect, regret and convert

It seems to me that Lent is something like the Christian version of Yom Kippur, the annual Jewish day of atonement. Except that Lent lasts 40 days instead of one, and Christians have Easter to look forward to!

Personally, I’m not sure that one day is enough time for a year’s worth of atonement. But 40 days seems about right for me to recall the past year’s events, reflect upon them and make plans to change my behavior.

Recently, St. Paul Parish in Green­castle held a Theology Night Out with Father Rick Ginther speaking to us on “breaking down the fears” of confession/penance/reconciliation. One of his main points was that conversion should always be part of this sacrament; in other words, we need to change in order to be forgiven and made ready to start anew.

It seemed a lot easier in the old days just to give up chocolate or beer in hopes that self-sacrifice of a sort would improve our spiritual life. Even adding positive efforts such as more Scripture reading, prayer or sacramental liturgies to our agendas seemed to provide a quicker-fix penitence. Not like conversion.

That’s because conversion is a difficult and sometimes lengthy process. It evokes leaving another religion to embrace Catholicism, or making some other profound change in the way we live, the way we view the world and our place in it. Conversion is heavy stuff.

It’s also hard to contemplate conversion when we’re down in the trenches of life. That’s when we’re involved in things like getting ourselves an education, starting a family and trying to make a living. It’s pitting new school shoes for the kids against replacing mom’s tacky old winter coat.

Conversion is only an intellectual abstraction when we’re coping with rebellious teenagers or demanding bosses. It might seem insignificant compared to the struggles we can experience in trying to make Natural Family Planning work in a marriage or to turn celibacy in the priestly life into something positive and even joyful.

There appears to be a continuum of conversion throughout life because, after all, conversion is an ongoing process. We start when we’re young, learning to deny ourselves by giving up candy or TV. Later we add fasting, or weekly Stations of the Cross, or perhaps studying the daily Scripture readings of the Church, to keep more in touch with our righteous aspirations.

As the life plot thickens and we become embroiled in working, raising kids, running from appointment to obligation, we need to try even harder to keep the spiritual impetus going. Lent reminds us every year to keep trying, and the Church offers us her sacraments, retreats, study groups, volunteer opportunities and many other kinds of help.

If we’re lucky, by the time we retire we have fewer obligations and more time to reflect on how far we’ve progressed in our conversion. Along with St. Paul, as he urges in his letter to the Hebrews (those originators of Yom Kippur), “... let us lay aside every encumbrance of sin which clings to us and persevere in running the race which lies ahead.”

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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