Three hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Saint Ephraim the Syrian became a Christian. In the desert of Syria, he was baptized and ordained a deacon. When he was baptized, he wrote a simple prayer:
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness,
lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother,
for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
To this day, Syrian Christians pray Ephraim’s prayer when they begin the Holy Season of Lent. We should, too.
We cannot become saints if we do not recognize the spirit of sinfulness that keeps us from following Jesus Christ. We’re called, each one of us, to confess our sinfulness and trust in God’s mercy.
But God wants to do more than forgive us. God wants to turn our shame into joy, our vice into virtue, our bondage into freedom. God wants to transform us; to create new, clean hearts in us.
Lent is a reminder that Jesus Christ came into this world to bear our sin, and to offer his life for us on the cross. Our part is to offer our own lives in union with him: to ask the Lord to make us worthy followers of Jesus Christ; and to trust that God, and God alone, can set us free from the spirit of sin.
We know, and God knows, the extent to which we are in need of his mercy. We know about the sinfulness we’ve been clinging to, or are carrying in our hearts. Each of us knows the times when we have chosen sin – have chosen our will over God’s will.
This is why Lent should begin with the sacrament of penance – with a good confession. In the sacrament of penance we reveal our sinfulness to God. We reveal our sorrow, and express our commitment to amend our lives. And then, through his priest, we are forgiven by God the Father.
As we confess our sins and encounter mercy, we can be transformed in holiness, as loving disciples of Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis recently said that confession is like a second baptism. Through God’s mercy we have the chance to begin again, with new, clean hearts.
I encourage each of you to begin the Holy Season of Lent with the sacrament of confession. Bring your spouses, your children, or your friends. Confess your sins to Jesus Christ, and ask him to make in you a new heart—ask him to transform the spirit of sin into the spirit of love.
During the season of Lent, we’re called to prayer, and fasting, and almsgiving. The Gospel of St. Matthew, read on Ash Wednesday, commends these practices to us. Christ calls us to pray, and fast, and live charitably in hidden ways—without boasting or complaining about our Lent. The reason is because our Lenten sacrifices are not designed to be a measure of our virtue, or an affirmation of our Catholicism. Our Lenten sacrifices are meant to draw us close to God, so that he can form our hearts in His image.
Our virtue—our love for God and neighbor—should be the witness of our Lenten sacrifice. The fruit of God’s love should be evident. Christ invites us to follow him quietly, and unassumingly, so that God’s glory will shine, instead of our own.
As we begin Lent, may we begin by confessing our sins. And may we ask the Lord to transform our hearts—to make us love as he does—so that the glory of Jesus Christ may shine through our lives, and transform the world.