Lent's message of turning toward Christ can be practiced each day
by Renae Bauer
"Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."
Each Ash Wednesday these words are spoken to us as the burned and crushed palm fronds from the previous year's Palm Sunday are traced on our foreheads. It's Lent: a new opportunity to draw closer to God.
If there is one value at the heart of the Franciscan life, it is constant conversion or turning toward a Gospel life. This daily and lifelong practice is integrated into the lives of our Sisters and Associates but it's also alive and well in Church practices such as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults or RCIA. In fact, there are probably a handful of people at your parish right now who are praying, studying and discussing whether God is leading them to become full members of the Catholic faith on Holy Saturday, April 19.
"The conversion in RCIA is (to a deeper) awareness to God's working in their lives," says Sister Joanne Goessl, Pastoral Associate at St. Mary Parish in Appleton where RCIA has been one of her ministries for more than 30 years. "God has been acting in (the catechumens' and candidates') lives whether they are aware of it or not. So when you talk about conversion I see it not as much from sinful practices as a growing awareness of God acting in and through them. This is a lifelong conversion for all of us."
When asked how she sees "Franciscan moments" in RCIA, she quickly lists three: community, God's presence (prayer), and outreach.
"I see it in the building of community. That's really critical to being Church," says Sister Joanne. "When I hear (RCIA candidates and sponsors or parishioners) have supported or spent time together, I'm excited because that's what it is to be Church. We are there for each other in good times and bad."
Life's highs and lows also are opportunities to see God's graces at work, the second Franciscan moment. "Francis was so aware of God's presence, goodness and giftedness in the people around him as well as in creation and events. Francis wanted to make others aware of God's presence," she says. In the RCIA process, Sister Joanne gives a lot of time and energy to talking about God's grace, which she defines as "God's presence within us, helping us go beyond what we would say, be or do on our own."
Learning about grace isn't just "head stuff" either, says Sister Joanne. The candidates, sponsors and catechists share their experiences of God moving them to do something they wouldn't normally consider such as offering to listen to a distressed stranger's burden; accepting an invitation to minister in a new and uncomfortable way; or saying yes at age 70+ to God's call to learn more about the Catholic Church.
Once Francis helped people see God's presence, he then talked about living in gratitude. "Gratitude comes forth in prayer when we realize that it is God's grace that moves us to go beyond our own strengths in caring for those who do not have the necessities of life or are living difficult lives," says Sister Joanne. "As I continue to grow in the Franciscan values of conversion, community, prayer and outreach, I pray that persons in the RCIA process and the entire Church will follow the same path this Lenten season."
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