Lent: A Focus on Conversion

By: Friar Jim Kent, OFM Conv.

This stain-glass image depicts St. Francis receiving the sacred Stigmata, the wounds of Christ on the hands, feet and side. Francis was drawn so intimately into the suffering and cross of Christ he was the first person to be given the gift of the Stigmata.

Lent is a season where we as individuals and as community--as a church--prepare for the mysteries of Easter.  We do this through fasting, prayer and the giving of alms.   The Sunday Scriptures take us from Jesus's fasting 40 days in the desert and being tempted by the devil, to the Transfiguration, to his promise to destroy the temple and raise it up in three days, and all the way to the Passion of the Lord recounted on Palm Sunday.  We follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem as we too make our Lenten journey of conversion.

St. Francis encouraged his followers to live lives of conversion.  These might be major steps in our life with God or smaller every-day steps that slowly draw us to our eternal destiny.  Lent allows us time to focus on the need for conversion, constant conversion.  We may have had defining moments in our life of faith but need to augment these with the many lesser moments that keep us on the proper path.  Fasting and abstaining from meat can remind us of the need to depend on God, as well as connect us to those who daily go without these basic necessities.  Giving our time, treasure and talent to someone--especially the poor--expands our world to all God's people and helps us better love God and others.  Spending extra time in prayer makes the Lenten experience quite personal and draws us ever deeper into our life with God.

One of the Lenten practices the Franciscans nurtured and helped make common throughout all the church is the Stations of the Cross.  Not many people could afford to go to Jerusalem to walk the way of the cross Jesus did, but everyone can do so in their local church.  These stations recall quite vividly and viscerally what Jesus endured for our salvation.  They recall the people he met along that journey, the good, the bad, the indifferent, and the ritual invites us to enter more fully into His suffering and death to aid our own conversion.

Lent is an opportunity for growth by going without, by giving to others, by spending more time in prayer, so that we might better realize the effects of Easter and our journey towards the New Jerusalem.

The Prayer Before the Crucifix
by St. Francis of Assisi

Most High,
glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me
true faith,
certain hope,
and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge,
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.