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Keeping Christ at the Center of Lent

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Feb. 27, 2011

by: Adam Koll

“Repent and believe in the Gospel!” are the words you may hear this Ash Wednesday as ashes are rubbed on your forehead in the form of a cross.  For many years I nodded my head, and just walked back to my pew.  But as I got older, I began to ask myself the question, “What does the phrase ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’ mean?  And what does that phrase have to do with Lent?”

Because I did not take the time to thoroughly investigate the Catholic faith until my mid-20s, I spent many years with questions but no answers.  I felt like a Catholic who was kind of on the outside looking in; it seemed like I was one step behind everybody else.  I was not the type of Catholic who lived with an awareness of what was going on in the liturgical year, so Ash Wednesday was one of those days that always took me by surprise.  I would be walking to class on what I thought was an ordinary Wednesday afternoon, when all of a sudden along came the Catholics with big black smudges on their foreheads, and I’d think to myself, “Oh, no!  It’s Ash Wednesday and I completely forgot again!  Where can I get my ashes?!?!”  So I’d scramble to find a Mass, and surprisingly the non-Catholics were looking for a place to get ashes too!

There was this one Lent where I decided I was finally going to do everything “right” for the first time.  So I fasted and abstained from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and I abstained from meat on the Fridays of Lent.  In addition to fasting, I attempted to deepen my prayer life.  To give you an idea of where my prayer life was at back then, let’s just say that if God would have answered my prayers from college, you would have seen giant piles of blessed cafeteria food all over campus.  The only time I prayed was before meals, and the only thing I remember asking of God was that He’d bless my food.

When it came to almsgiving, I did not have much money in college so I decided to spend some time serving the youth in the community and helping out at a local soup kitchen; I selfishly reasoned that my résumé could use a little volunteer experience on it anyway.  By the end of that Lent I remember expecting to feel a sense of satisfaction that I had achieved everything I set out to do for Lent, but instead I felt empty inside.  Something was missing…or maybe it was Someone.  And it was at that point I remembered those words from Ash Wednesday, “Repent and believe in the Gospel!”

Brothers and sisters, if Christ is not the center of all we do as Christians, then we have completely missed the point.  ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’ means to forsake the things in our lives that keep us away from God, and to receive God’s grace in order to live the Gospel and unite ourselves more fully to Him.  The Church’s requirements in Lent are meant to help us move forward in our process of conversion.  For example, the US Bishops require 18-60 year olds (if they are medically able) to abstain from meat and only eat one average-sized meal and two snacks when fasting for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  So our “fasting” in the United States involves eating more food than most people eat on a daily basis throughout the world.  Let us be faithful to the Church’s guidance this Lent, but let us also ask the Lord to give us the grace to live even more passionately for Him!

May God’s kindness lead us to repentance, and may we all embrace the Gospel of Jesus, who calls us to deeper conversion daily through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Let us be Catholics who live in the liturgical year, receiving all the beauty and grace that the Church offers us in order to deepen our love for Christ and share His love with the world.  Amen.

Adam Koll is the Diocesan Director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Diocese of Corpus Christi in Texas and is a regular contributor to Newman Connection.