Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, leads us in a reflection on how Lent is an invitation to encounter the Crucified Lord.
Our encounter with the Father can mirror the experience of the two sons in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The prodigal is a wastrel, wasteful of his inheritance. The older son is hard-working, dutiful yet indignant and self-righteous. Both are distanced from their father because of their choices. The younger son was transformed through the warmth of his encounter with his father. While he was still a long way off, the father, filled with compassion, ran out, embraced and kissed him.
He quickly clothed him with a robe, put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet; he killed the fattened calf and celebrated with a banquet. The reason for his joy: ‘For this son of mine was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found’ (Luke 15:24).
We don’t learn of the older son’s change of heart but we do learn how much his father loved him: ‘Son, you are always with me and all that is mine is yours’ (Luke 15:31).
We too can know the Father’s loving embrace through an encounter with Jesus, who laid down his life, embracing death, even death on a cross. St John the Evangelist said: ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16). But what is love? Love is an encounter with the Crucified One, because here we encounter God’s love: ‘This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son’ (1 John 4:10).
Lent is a journey to Calvary, where we encounter the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love; a love that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. Take heart from St Thérèse of Lisieux who said: ‘Look at his adorable face. Look at his glazed and sunken eyes. Look at his wounds. Look Jesus in the face. There, you will see how he loves us.’.
STRENGTHENED BY TEMPTATION
Temptation can be hard to resist. We can be easily overwhelmed by our desires and appetites; we have weak spots, blind spots and shadows. It is not wrong to be tempted; only to yield. To resist temptation is a decision of the heart. In the midst of our temptations we can think God is far away; but God is right there in the middle of them, giving us strength. ‘No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but will provide you the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it’
(1 Corinthians 10:13).
TRANSFORMED BY CHRIST
The Transfiguration of Christ left a lasting impression on St Peter – he testified many years later that he heard the voice of the Majestic Glory, the Father, say, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ (2 Peter 17).
And yet, despite this profound experience, St Peter betrayed and denied the Lord and wasn’t truly transformed until the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Conversion is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, who transforms us with ever increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18) by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2).
THE JOY OF CONVERSION
Human joy comes in many forms: from a sunrise or sunset, a lakeside or mountain-top view or the changing of the seasons.
How beautifully the Song of Songs captures this: ‘For behold the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on earth, the time of singing has come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land’ (Song of Songs 2:11-12).
Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is heavenly, because heaven rejoices when just one sinner repents or converts
The joy of conversion is truly a divine and heavenly joy.
RECEIVE FORGIVENESS; SHOW MERCY
The logic of the kingdom of heaven is clear: when we receive forgiveness, we show mercy. When we don’t know forgiveness; we can’t show mercy and our hearts grow hard.
We seek forgiveness for we have sinned; we show mercy because we have been forgiven.
When did you last experience the grace of the Sacrament of Mercy, the Sacrament of Forgiveness?
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation God’s mercy and forgiveness is made real and present – through it we are touched by his forgiving and merciful heart.
THE ROYAL ROAD OF THE CROSS
Jesus’ destiny was to die, crucified on a tree, outside the city walls of Jerusalem at Golgotha
(‘Place of the Skull’).
Our redemption, salvation and the forgiveness of our sins flows from the cross; it flows from the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross.
We glory, boast and rejoice in the Royal Road of the cross, which led Jesus to lay down his life as a ransom for many.
‘In the cross, and him who hung upon it, all things meet; all things need it. It is their centre and their interpretation. For he was lifted upon it, that he might draw all things to him’ (St John Henry Newman).
May God’s mercy flow like mountain streams, falling down like the morning dew. May the healing balm of forgiveness wash away our iniquity, cleanse us from our sin and lead us to a joyful celebration of the Risen Lord on Easter Sunday.