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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | Take time to pause and reset for new habits

Lent presents the challenge and opportunity to witness to the Gospel truth that we are all sinners in need of a savior

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Have you ever seen a commercial or a movie where they hit the “pause” button — then all the people and action freeze, while one character moves about in the frozen frame?

Lent and Easter are like that.

This week we begin the 7th week of Ordinary Time. Then Lent starts, and the Church pushes the “pause” button. Forty days of Lent are followed by 50 days of Easter. Then, after 90 days, the Church pushes “play” again, and we pick up with the 8th week of Ordinary Time.

The Church pushes the “pause” button to give us time to establish some new habits. Contemporary psychologists say that it takes roughly 90 days to build a new habit. So, here’s our chance! If you could push “pause,” take 90 days to acquire a new habit and then reenter your life with that habit in place, what would it be? Make that your Lenten plan!


Every year, when Lent starts, some people are puzzled — and not without reason. In the Gospel for Ash Wednesday, Jesus tells us not to let our prayer, fasting and almsgiving be known … so we put ashes on our foreheads, to let everyone know we’re entering a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving?

When we understand the passage properly, there’s no contradiction. Every moral action is evaluated according to its object, intention and circumstance. The same is true of every spiritual action. What Jesus is critiquing on Ash Wednesday is people’s intention: They’re doing good things, but they’re doing them “to win the praise of others.” Is Jesus really saying, “Don’t give public witness to your faith?” Of course not! He told us to let our light shine before others. What He’s saying is: When you carry out good spiritual actions, make sure your intentions are in the right place as well.

So, what’s our intention when we wear ashes in public? We’re not doing it “to win the praise of others.” Our intention is to give witness to the Gospel truth that we’re sinners in need of a savior. When we do that, we pose a question and issue an invitation: “Are you a sinner in need of a savior, too? Join us!”


Affirmation is a natural developmental need, but at some point in our lives, everyone needs to be challenged, too.

A perfect example of this is the call of Matthew (Levi), which we read as Lent begins. Matthew is a tax collector — the prototype of a sinner! Jesus didn’t simply affirm him: “Matthew, I know you’re trying as hard as you can. I accept you just as you are.” No, Jesus called him: “Matthew, I want more for you. But it’s going to require more from you. Will you follow me?”

It’s ennobling to know that someone sees more in us and wants more for us. It’s dignifying to be invited to rise to the challenge. But, then, the decision is ours: Will we walk into the challenge, or walk away from it?

Matthew followed Jesus. The fruit of his decision was to give hope to other sinners — who then joined Matthew and Jesus for dinner!

Lent presents that same challenge and opportunity to each of us. How will we respond?

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