The first Lent with my current spiritual director, I went to him prior to Ash Wednesday with, what I thought were, my ducks all in a row: I'm going to pray like this and fast from that and give alms by ....
My ducks were shot down. every. single. one of them.
Father asked me, instead, how I planned to grow in virtue during Lent. How was I going to be converted during Lent so that Easter found me a new creation?
In the past I had given up something, or added something to my prayer routine, only to go back to life as usual on Easter Monday, thankful to eat chocolate whenever I wanted. But, really, the same me. I had never experienced deep conversion during Lent.
This morning I read the editorial in this month's Magnificat. Father Cameron wrote, "Lent is the season of conversion. But, more than just 'changed behavior,' conversion is really about being."
And I was reminded that all of my resolutions to pray more, give up something, do something extra, are really for naught, if I am not changed by them. They are really sideshows, in the words of my spiritual direction, without a main event.
That first Lent that I didn't give up a single thing, or pray a minute more, was hard for me. I am a do-er by temperament, not a be-er. But it was also the first Lent I experienced tremendous spiritual growth and conversion. With Father's help, I examined my struggles, my particular propensities for certain sins, and I chose the opposing virtue to concentrate on that Lent. And every Lent since.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there isn't a place for more prayer, more fasting, increased almsgiving, but, for me, adding a rosary or giving up coffee is easy. The hard work is growing in virtue, and adapting my Lenten practices to this end. Every year I struggle with feeling guilty for not having more Lenten resolutions. Each Lent, I have to be deliberate, asking myself, not what God wants me to do for Lent, but rather, who does God want me to be when Lent is over?
For in the depths of myself I am sure that I am meant to be more than I am. I have a potential that I have not yet realized. There is more to me than I know. When we listen to Jesus' words -- "I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly (Jn 10:10) -- we are certain Christ is speaking directly to us. We can feel the absence of the unlived aspects of ourselves. And that lack creates in us a longing. The response to it is called conversion.And, that, is what we do during Lent.
This is why Blesses John Henry Newman stated that "conversion is nothing more than a deeper discovery of what we already truly desire." Conversion happens in us precisely at the level of desire. "Being converted," wrote Father Antonin Sertillanges, O.P., "is simply meeting yourself for the purpose of going to the very end of your being. Conversion means a willingness to see the truth of things and conform one's conduct to it."
When we don't see the truth of things, a kind of agitation takes over -- Saint Augustine's sense that out hearts are restless until they rest in God. The Venerable John Paul II once wrote that "the basic human drama is the failure to perceive the meaing of life, to live without a meaning." Lenten conversion addresses that critical omission in our life. The first words of Jesus in the Gospel of John are, "What are you looking for?" (Jn 1:38). What are we truly looking for in life? What are the desires that drive us? Are they really enough? Do they lead us to true satisfaction... or do they leave us wanting more? ...
As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, "Conversion is an act of obedience toward a reality which precedes me and which does not originate from me." Conversion, therefore, entails allowing ourselves to be drawn in by Christ so that we can become one with him in the way we think and feel and act and speak. As the Catechism puts it, "The human heart is converted by looking upon him who our sins have pierced" (1432).
Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P.
May God bless you, dear reader, and may you become this Lent who He wants you to be.