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Over the years, my five sons have been given many toys, games and puzzles that are made up of many parts. Inevitably as the boys have played with them, the parts have been thrown to the four winds, ending up separated in various parts of our house.
We have a box in our living room where we put the scattered parts when we find them. Look in the box any time, and you’ll see a strange mixture of action figures, puzzle pieces and cards.
Most of the time, they just sit there collecting dust. The boys aren’t bothered by the fact that their games or toys have missing parts until they want to play with them as they were intended to. (They’re really good at re-purposing toys to a hundred different purposes.)
But sometimes, they want to play “Monopoly Deal” or “Uno” and realize that they’re missing several cards of those or other games. So they dig into the box, where there might be cards from half a dozen decks of cards and other card games and assorted toys.
Usually they can find the missing cards, and then the game commences.
Lent can be a time when we search for the scattered pieces of our broken hearts to take them to God. Maybe earlier in our lives, we had convinced ourselves that we were happy despite having a broken heart. But, in the end, we all desire to be whole again.
God can put our hearts together again so that, with a life renewed in his mercy, we can be happy playing all sorts of games with him as his beloved children.
At the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, we hear God telling us through the prophet Joel, “Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning” (Jl 2:12).
God created each one of us with a whole heart. It was filled with his life at the time of our baptism. But in the years that followed, we sinned and our hearts were broken into more and more pieces with each choice to go our own way instead of walking in the path that God had laid out for us.
As we wander on our own, the pieces of our hearts are scattered here and there. When later we want to bring those pieces back to God, we might have to spend time pondering our shortfalls and the causes and implications of them.
Lent can be a good time for that kind of prayerful self-examination.
It is also, in the words of St. Paul from the second reading on Ash Wednesday, “a very acceptable time” and the “day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).
That salvation is experienced in a special way during Lent when we come before our merciful God in the sacrament of penance. There we come before him with the various pieces of our broken hearts and he, in his mercy, puts them back together again.
When we leave the confessional, our hearts are whole again and for that we should give thanks, showing our gratitude in part by seeking with the help of God’s grace to live a life of greater virtue and avoid sin.
Though God may heal our hearts, they will still be marked by the scars caused by our past sins. Those sins have been forgiven, but their effects in our lives often persist.
If those effects make it easier for us to fall back into our old sinful habits, God will always be there to forgive us and put our hearts back together again, just like Cindy and I help our sons re-assemble parts of their toys and games that have been scattered, only to have them soon lose them again.
Just as we help them find those parts, even for the third or fourth time, God will always forgive us and make our hearts whole again. †