First week of Lent
Now is the acceptable time

By Most Reverend Daniel E. Thomas

The Catholic Standard & Times presents the first of a six-part series authored by the auxiliary bishops of Philadelphia to aid readers in their Lenten preparation during this year of St. Paul.

“Now is the time.”

As we continue to celebrate with the universal Church the 2,000th anniversary of St. Paul’s birth, we take him now as our guide through the season of Lent 2009. Appropriately, we will use the Lenten Pauline readings as our source of reflection.

In the second reading of Ash Wednesday, St. Paul implores the fledgling Christian community at Corinth to be “reconciled to God.” To mark the beginning of Lent, Catholics around the world give witness to the need to turn away from sin by wearing on their foreheads the sign of the cross in ashes. Reconciling with God begins with recognizing the presence of sin in my life.

Try as we may to strive for holiness, all of us occasionally commit sins in thought, word or deed. The impact of other people’s sins on our lives reflects a further communal dimension to sin. We are culpable, both as inspaniduals and as groups, in our similarly flawed humanity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that sin is an offense against God and a rupture of communion with Him. Sin also damages communion with the Church. “For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church,” the Catechism says, “which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.”

God did not leave us to suffer in a life of bondage to sin. He sent his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and through His spanine authority Christ entrusted the power to forgive sins to the apostles. (“If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them… ” Jn. 20:22.) This is why the apostle Paul can claim he is an ambassador for Christ when he says God is making an appeal through the apostles “in Christ’s name: be reconciled to God!” The purpose of reconciliation is that, in the words of St. Paul, “we might become the very holiness of God.”

Holiness is attainable in a sinful world through the grace of God. Paul begs his “fellow workers” in the vineyard of the Kingdom of God not to receive this redeeming grace of Jesus in vain. That is, do not take this great gift for granted and put off seeking redemptive grace in some future time. It is the grace which flowed from the Cross which we receive when we go to confession. When we live in the state of grace, free from sin, we become more holy. The state of grace leads to receiving Holy Communion, where our reconciliation with the Lord and the community of the Church is complete!

To be a true ambassador, one needs to be reconciled. Once reconciled, you then are equipped with grace to invite others into that same grace. This Lent, Paul is encouraging us: don’t wait, don’t procrastinate, don’t put it off. Invite your family members, your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends, to come with you to confession. The Lord is waiting for you in the sacrament of reconciliation, offered every Saturday in your parish. Cardinal Rigali has also asked every parish again this year to make the Sacrament available on Wednesday evening from 7-8 p.m. Every church, every Wednesday!

The right time to ask God to forgive one’s sins and receive the gift of mercy and forgiveness is not next month or next year, but “now is the acceptable time!” Even though Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians almost 2,000 years ago, his “now” is also ours. His message to them – “now is the day of salvation!” – is also our charge today. The first week of Lent offers a new opportunity to confess one’s sins, to do penance and to amend our lives.

If it has been a long time since you have heard these words in the sacrament, or only a short time, now is the acceptable time to be reconciled to God. Imagine, if we do as St. Paul exhorts, each person and by extension, families, parishes and the communities of which we are a part – indeed the whole human family – might become holy, as God is holy. “Now is the time.”

We are ambassadors for Christ, God as it were appealing through us. We implore you, in Christ’s name: be reconciled to God! For our sakes God made him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God.

As your fellow workers we beg you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “in an acceptable time I have heard you; on a day of salvation I have helped you.” Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation! — 2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:2

Lenten meditation

Paul calls us to be ambassadors of Christ. When was I an ambassador of Christ to someone else?

Paul calls us to be reconciled. What steps do I need to take during this Lenten Season to be reconciled with God or another?

Paul tells us that “now” is the day. “Now” is the time. How can I use my time most fruitfully?