“A humbled, contrite heart You will not spurn” (Ps.50:19)
It can be tempting to think of Lent as a time of “doing something” or “giving something up”. And while that may be what we are doing on one level, perhaps the more important level is the one concerned with the motivation for this doing or not doing, the reason for the action.
Without the reason, the action itself becomes superficial and meaningless. Anyone can give up chocolate for 40 days – in itself, it has neither meaning nor merit. What makes it worthwhile is our Christian motivation, the intention that we offer this sacrifice in union with Christ and for love of Him, and as a symbolic action of our renunciation of self.
Psalm 50 speaks beautifully of the sense of sorrow in the heart which perceives it’s own sinfulness before the Lord. This heart sees it’s need for change and conversion – ‘O purify me then I shall be clean, O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow’ – and it recognises that in being purified, in experiencing real conversion, it draws nearer to the Lord.
This is very much the sense of Lent. It is a time of seeking to draw nearer to the Lord; this is the motivation behind all those little acts we undertake over the next forty days.
To see our need to draw closer to the Lord, we first need to perceive how very far we are from Him in the present moment – but this perception is always while knowing that He desires that we approach Him in confidence. Our humility, contrition and trust endear us to Him – ‘a humbled, contrite heart You will not spurn’.
In his Lenten Message, Pope Francis touches on this idea of Lent being a ‘sacramental sign of our conversion’ which summons us to return to the Lord. He takes these words of Saint Matthew as his theme for Lent –
“Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt.24:12)
It is all too easy for human hearts to grow cold toward the Lord, for a variety of different reasons – some of which the Holy Father mentions in his Lenten Message.
The solution to this is that sense of humility and contrition which Psalm 50 describes. The humbled and contrite heart sees it’s need for the mercy of God; and this realisation awakens within us the corresponding need to be merciful – in deed, in word and in prayer – mindful that the Lord tells us that the merciful will be shown mercy.
Being merciful in numerous small and unseen ways is a very powerful means of enkindling a fire within the heart which is nothing less than the love of God and of neighbour; and this fire saves our hearts from growing cold, in the way Saint Matthew mentions. And such a heart, the Lord will not spurn.
May this Lent be a season of great grace and mercy for all of us, drawing us ever closer to the Merciful Lord by means of His holy Cross.