By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
Ash Wednesday awaits us in a few days, beginning the 40-day spiritual journey for our Catholic world. It is a spiritual undertaking, yet there is nothing vague or aimless about the precious time ahead because the Lord provides the framework on Ash Wednesday with the imperatives of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Taken together these three pillars, especially magnified during Lent, allow the Holy Spirit to bring about the inner conversion that is life-long, with its outer manifestation in a faithful, compassionate and generous way of living.
Of course, each year the ultimate goal of this venerable 40-day undertaking is to grow in the love of Jesus Christ, the crucified and resurrected Good Shepherd who is the way, the truth and the life. Following a wholehearted Lenten observance, the Easter Sunday renewal of our Baptism vows is the extraordinary way of proclaiming this love in communion and solidarity with believers throughout our Catholic world. Banking on the Lord’s assurance, the 3-ply cord of prayer, fasting and abstinence will foster in us a keener awareness that we are God’s children now, and temples of the Holy Spirit.
Ash Wednesday takes us back to the basics of our faith with the admonitions during the distribution of ashes to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” or “remember, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Taken together they profess the fundamental reality that sin and death hold us in their grasp. The way out is the call to repentance that rests upon the fundamental teaching of our faith which we know as the Kerygma.
We recall the words of St. Peter, the inaugural proclamation of the Gospel on Pentecost Sunday because we want to respond to this call as if we were hearing them for the first time.
When they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “what are we to do brethren?’ Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise that was made is for you, for your children, and for all those who are far away, for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:37-39)
A faithful response to the call to conversion impacts who we are and all that we do. For example, how does all of this apply to the diocesan wide and worldwide process for the Synod on Synodality? Consider, that the Lord’s call to repentance is rooted in metanoia, the concept that describes the changing of one’s mind and going in another direction. Dialogue, based in prayer, the Word of God, and God’s Holy Spirit, the framework for our Synodal process, depends upon each one of us putting our sin-stained minds aside, our preconceived notions, our prejudices, our egos, our pride and our sinfulness in order to arrive at a higher level of communion, participation and mission as members of the Catholic Church.
It’s true that our broad-based diocesan response to the Synod on Synodality about to conclude its first phase, will bear much fruit in the future. At the deepest level, perhaps imperceptibly it is planting the seeds of conversion, or metanoia, a change of mind and behavior toward greater openness to one another in the Holy Spirit. A healthy process of participation and communion can inspire a change of heart, and in turn an individual’s conversion can be a stream of clean water that refreshes the body. This is our prayer.
Prayer: the turning of our hearts and minds to God; fasting: the letting go of that which is harming us, as well as sacrificing simple pleasures for a greater good; and almsgiving: the sacrificial generosity for the good of others, and for our own conversion, are the weapons of the spirit, and the medicine for much that ails us. They are more accessible than over the counter drugs and served up on demand without the need to download an app.
“May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all.” (2Thessalonians 3:17)