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Changing Our Hearts Publicly and Privately

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Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.

Return to me with all your heart. Rend your garments. Proclaim a fast, blow the trumpets, bring the nursing babies . . . but do not make a display. Sound no trumpet. Pray to your Father in secret.

What?

What are you asking, Lord? You call us to public repentance but then you warn against outward displays of piety, of prayer that is visible before the assembly, of making much of ourselves in the sight of others.

Today we enter into Lent, into the great penitential season of the Church. And it seems that He is asking the impossible from us. Be transformed, be renewed, be repentant . . . but do not be ostentatious about it.

Lent is at once both intensely personal and necessarily public. The body of Christ utters a collective, weary sigh, bowing heads and bending knees in acknowledgment of how very badly we need this. 

But as for the specific needs of the individual members? The practices and penances each baptized Christian takes on to enter into this holy season? Those are personal. And, ideally, they are private.

He alone knows our needs, our sins, our areas of greatest weakness. And He alone can meet us in our commitments to fast, to give alms, to enter more deeply into prayer, and ultimately, to be transformed by Him.

Lent is not about resolutions or willpower. Lent isn’t simply a chance to try a challenging new diet or kick a nasty habit. And the practices we are publicly called into need not be public displays of prowess or ability. That’s missing the point.

God is calling us to change, to gather publicly as a body of Christ and acknowledge our sinfulness, and to meet Him in the privacy of our hearts, each of us, asking Him what His plans for our 40 days are.

Lord, help me to make Lent about you and you alone, and help me to leave myself out of it. Show me the transformation You desire for me. And lay the penance you desire from me on my heart that I may know your will. Because now is the acceptable time.

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Jenny Uebbing is a freelance writer and editor for Catholic News Agency. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband Dave and their small army of toddlers. You can find out more about her faith, thoughts on bioethics, and potty training failures here

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