I was asked to hear confessions Dec. 23 at the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Md., close to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary where I teach. When I arrived, I noted on the door that the shrine was closed for the day, out of caution for the faithful, due to the cold and wind gusts around 50 miles per hour.
As I returned to the car, I saw two persons walking toward the shrine. I informed them that the shrine was closed but that if they wished to confess, we could use my car since nothing else was open. They were grateful.
The penitents kept coming. I heard 17 confessions in my car that day. A young man stood in the cold for the entire period to explain to those who wanted to confess what had happened and to direct them to me.
I considered that episode to be an unmerited grace that I received, an expected gift from God.
“These forty days of Lent, O Lord, with You we fast and pray, Teach us to discipline our wills, and close by You to stay.”
How the crucified and risen Lord Jesus wants to change us. He really desires that this Lent will witness our profound transformation from sin to virtue. And that, too, is an unmerited grace.
The path to Easter Sunday’s empty tomb first passes through Calvary. There is no getting around the stark reality: “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Rom 6:8). Our anger, pride, lust, greed, envy, gluttony and sloth must be nailed to the Savior’s cross before we will be fully liberated from Satan’s snares.
Although penned before the first coming of Jesus, the Old Testament Prophet Ezekiel wrote (18:30-32) in accord with the future message of the Virgin Mary’s Son: “Therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, everyone according to his ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against Me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God; so turn, and live.”
Jesus shed his most Precious Blood for us on Calvary. His sacrifice was accepted by the Father through the Holy Spirit.
For the selfless offering of Christ to find its fullest effect in my life, I must open myself to the astounding grace of God and cooperate with all that the Lord wants to do with and in me. Again, I must die to myself so that I can rise with Jesus.
God’s plans for me and my life are astonishing. But he does not compel me to yield to what he wishes. He invites my affirmative reply, knowing what is best for me.
The Lenten activities of prayer, penance and works of charity are meant to help me adore my Creator, imitate the suffering Jesus and develop my attitude of prompt surrender to all that the merciful God requires of me.
Forty days may not seem to be much time for a genuine conversion. But it is. Those who heed the gentle voice of the Good Shepherd summoning them to friendship with himself will be radically altered. This is our ambition during Lent.
May Christ find our hearts to be his welcoming home and our efforts to pray, fast and give alms in harmony with his designs for our happiness in this world and the next.
Msgr. Mangan teaches at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
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