“Repent, and believe the Good News.”
It is not very often that a persons life is changed in a single day, even in a day of recollection. I have a friend called Chris, he tells me that between the ages of 16 and 22, he did absolutely nothing but play football, drink alcohol, smoke tobacco and other drugs and chase girls, - mostly without success. Every night he came home drunk. After six years of this his mother was distraught. She simply could not cope any longer. She spoke to her parish priest. He wasn’t much help (and she wasn’t surprised). He just suggested that Chris should come on a day of recollection - a kind of one day parish retreat that they were having where people think about their lives and about where they were going right or wrong. It didn’t seem like much of an idea, but she didn’t have a better one. So, she suggested this to Chris. And he said “No!”
She waited a while and asked him again. And again he said “No”.
Then she said that she would give him £50 if he would go. He thought about that and said “yes”.
When the day came, he went along. The priest talked for a while. He was very boring and he went on too long. Chris didn’t listen.
Then they had to pray for a while. So Chris walked round the garden and smoked a cigarette.
Then there was another long boring talk. Then another cigarette walking around the garden. The whole day went on like that.
Finally, he couldn’t take it any more. He left about mid-afternoon and went down to the bottle shop. And as he picked up his bottle to drink, suddenly in his mind he saw a picture of his mother crying. It frightened him so much that he put down his beer untasted and ran out of the shop. The next night he went to the same bottle shop. He picked up a beer and the same thing happened. A picture appeared in front of his eyes of his mother crying . So again he was too frightened to drink. The next night, he went out to a different bottle-shop. But still the same thing happened - he saw a picture of his mother crying.
From that day to this, Chris has never drunk alcohol. And now he looks back on the suffering he caused to his family and it makes him cry. His mother says it is the best £50 she ever spent.
That, I think, is the authentic spirit of our Lent. It is a time when we stop and consider our lives. And consider especially how all our lives must grow if we are to become the people that God created us to be and fulfil the sacred responsibilities we have been given in love. What are the ways that God needs us to grow to build his Kingdom? What are the ways that those who love us most need us to change that we may be better husbands or wives; brothers or sisters; sons or daughters? We believe that in the grace that God gives us in Lent we can find the answers to those questions. The long boring talks are optional. So are the cigarettes. But if we truly wish to be the best we can be – God’s People in the world – this moment of recollection is essential. As we pray in our Rosary, “Pray for us, O most holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”
Let us continue to proclaim our faith in the God who created us, who loves us and who has come to heal us.
Paul O'Reilly SJ