As we take the ashes of Lent upon our foreheads on Ash Wednesday we are given an admonition, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Lent is a season of penitence and we are called to change the direction of our lives. We are cautioned to turn away from sin and from all the fruitless habits of sin in our life and to turn toward Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. When we set out on a journey we would be wise to consider what our destination might be and what the proper direction might be that will lead us there. Wandering aimlessly through life only results in a fruitless existence. If we discover along the way of our journey that we have erred and have taken a wrong turn, setting our feet on the wrong road of life, we would be well advised to stop where we are, seek instructions on the proper direction to take and then set out on a new road. We would be fools to continue down a road that we know leads to nowhere. Repentance is seeking a new way of life that will lead us to our desired destination. Penitence is the discipline to maintain the proper path in life and not to allow our disordered desires to turn us away from the path that we know will lead us to the good and to our happiness. If we do not repent from time to time in our lives then we run the risk of leading a meaningless and fruitless existence.
In the season of Lent we hear the voice of Jesus calling us to repent and to turn toward his teaching in the gospel. In the gospel, Jesus teaches us a way of life that will lead us to the Father and allow us to find rest in his love. Our destination as Christians and as the Children of God is communion with the Father, through the Son and in the love of the Holy Spirit. Like a mother calling her children home for dinner, God the Father is constantly calling us to come home to him and to rest in his love. At a certain time in his life, Moses heard the voice of God calling his name and he found himself standing on holy ground and given a new mission and purpose in life. At first Moses was drawn to God who appeared as a Holy Fire burning in a bush but not consuming it. Immediately Moses must assume a new way of life as he takes off his shoes and stands on holy ground before the Lord. Humility and obedience will be hallmarks along the chosen path that Moses must follow in his new way of life.
The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: “Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush on fire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes, the rest sit and pluck blackberries.” So many people today are merely sitting around picking blackberries, unaware of the Presence of God all around them. Isaiah speaks of a guiding Voice in one’s life: “While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: “This is the way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right of to the left.” (Is 30,21) Jesus shows us the way to the Father and he calls us to follow him and walk on that narrow path that leads to the Kingdom. It is said, “When you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Lent is a call to discern the Way that leads to Life and to walk in that Way, removing our shoes and setting our face towards heaven. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus warns the disciples of the need to repent and to be aware of one’s sacred calling in life to bear fruit for the glory of God. Jesus cautions the people of his time, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! (Those who suffered a sudden, meaningless and fruitless death.)” (Lk 13,6)
Jesus tells a parable about a fig tree that is just “taking up space” in the orchard and is bearing no fruit. He warns that this fruitless tree will eventually be cut down. Change is needed in this tree’s existence and it needs to get its roots into some well cultivated ground rich in nutrients that give life, it truly needs to be rooted in “sacred ground”. Just remaining in the same sterile circumstance is not going to yield any fruit. Lent gives us the opportunity to cultivate our roots and to get them into some good ground that is life-giving and fruit-yielding. As the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins wrote, “Lord, send my roots rain!” The penitence of Lent gets our roots the needed rain of God’s grace that gives life.
Paul also gives a word of warning to the Corinthians, “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” (1Cor 10,12) During this time of Lent we need to examine our stance in life, the direction that we are going, the destination that we long for and what change we need in our lives to get us there. Don’t sit around wasting time and thinking that the call to holiness is for someone else. Get up and move now, start bearing fruit, the Lord is calling your name!