Conversion. It’s pretty close to the Latin “conversio,” meaning a turning round, revolving; alteration, or change. And Lent is all about those things.
To convert implies that we can look at ourselves as in a mirror. Not one of those goofy mirrors on the boardwalk or midway that distorts our image, or one of the playful apps on our smart phone that dresses us up in silly outfits. In a mirror we see ourselves reflected back with all that is good and all that we recognize as needing some work. Lent has always been about becoming a better person by doing something about the flaws that keep us from being all we know we can be and all we know God calls us to be.
But we live in such unforgiving times that “turning around” or “altering” our lives is harder than ever. There seems little room to recognize that we can and do grow and mature. Images on the Internet are forever. Tweets in a moment of frustration are thrown back at us many years later. Indiscretions of youth are assumed to be permanent personality disorders.
The Lenten clarion call, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,” seems not as easy as simply saying, “I’m sorry. I’m going to do better.” The tether to past sins—from our own guilt to buried tweets—can prove difficult to sever. The starting point of conversion is the honest appraisal and recognition of the need for a course correction. Public personalities who say, “That statement/action is not who I really am,” might rephrase that. “That is not the person I am hoping to grow into, and I am sorry. I want to do better.”
We are flawed. We are sinful. We do need Lent. We can change. And we need to allow ourselves and certainly others to change.
Robert Hotz is a consultant with American City Bureau, Inc. and was the Director of The Passion of Christ: The Love That Compels Campaign for Holy Cross Province.