We are at the beginning of Lent: a time of penance, purification and conversion. It is not an easy program, but then Christianity is not an easy way of life. It is not enough just to be in the Church, letting the years roll by. In our life, in the life of Christians, our first conversion — that unique moment which each of us remembers, when we clearly understood everything the Lord was asking of us — is certainly very significant. But the later conversions are even more important, and they are increasingly demanding. To facilitate the work of grace in these conversions, we need to keep our soul young; we have to call upon our Lord, know how to listen to him and, having found out what has gone wrong, know how to ask his pardon.
"If you call upon me, I will listen to you," we read in this Sunday's liturgy. Isn't it wonderful how God cares for us and is always ready to listen to us — waiting for man to speak? He hears us at all times, but particularly now. Our heart is ready and we have made up our minds to purify ourselves. He hears us and will not disregard the petition of a "humble and contrite heart."
The Lord listens to us. He wants to intervene and enter our lives to free us from evil and fill us with good. "I will rescue him and honour him," he says of man. So we must hope for glory. Here again we have the beginning of the interior movement that makes up our spiritual life. Hope of glory increases our faith and fosters our charity; the three theological virtues, godly virtues which make us like our Father God, have been set in motion.
What better way to begin Lent? Let's renew our faith, hope and love. The spirit of penance and the desire for purification come from these virtues. Lent is not only an opportunity for increasing our external practices of self-denial. If we thought it were only that, we would miss the deep meaning it has in christian living, for these external practices are — as I have said — the result of faith, hope and charity.