A woman participates in the celebration of Ash Wednesday at the cathedral in Managua, on March 1, 2017.
(Photo credit: INTI OCON/AFP/Getty Images)
By Fr Richard Gennaro Cipolla
Ash Wednesday, 2021
The season of Lent is so very strongly associated with the verb “to turn”. When we talk about the goal of the conversion of body, mind, heart and soul that is the goal of the Christian life and that is certainly the proximate goal of Lenten exercises such as fasting, prayer and alms giving, we use several forms of the basic word which comes from the Latin verb verto. This verb means “to turn “ in its most basic sense. But it has many compounds, each of which give a new meaning to this basic act of turning.
The same is true in English, in those words that have the Latin verto as their root.
The season of Lent is indeed a liturgical preparation for the feast of Easter and Eastertide. It is a preparation for that basic affirmation of our faith that is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But it also has an intensely personal side to it: getting ourselves in spiritual shape once again after a period of forgetting who we are as Catholics and what we should be doing in our lives to prevent our forgetting this. Lent is supposed to be a spiritual wake-up call, at least for most of us. On Ash Wednesday we always hear that wonderful reading from the prophet Joel:
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him?
Be converted, turn, return–all those words whose roots are from that one Latin verb, verto, to turn. For Lent is indeed that time of turning that is required of those that believe in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only hope for man.
We begin with averto, we begin with a turning away, a turning away from all that the world deems most important, and this turning away is never easy, for we are part of the world, and our focus is very often on worldly matters. But in order to turn away from the world I must also inverto, I must turn my priorities upside down, no longer seeing my worldly concerns as the top of my cone of existence but rather now my spiritual concerns, those concerns that deal with life and death and eternity and the meaning of my existence as a Catholic.
There must be this inversion, so to speak, before I can go on to adverto, the act of paying attention, of noticing deeply who I really am as opposed to who I think I am, who I fool myself into thinking I am, noticing that I have made my faith something rote as opposed to something that affects my very roots, noticing that my sin is real and deep and cannot be denied or fixed by merely going through the motions of my Catholic faith. I must pay attention, I must notice my need of true repentance.
It is only then that I can begin that process that comes from converto, where the prefix con- acts as an intensifier: to turn in a way such that this act of conversio forces me to change direction, forces me to look elsewhere, a wrenching action without which I cannot see or know the face of God, the God of justice and mercy, the God who is always waiting for me to convert, to make my deepest life a constant gaze on his beauty, truth and goodness, and in that gaze allow him to change my life, to cleanse me from my sin, to embrace me with his arms of mercy, to transform me by his grace, so that my death will be an entrance into His eternal life.
Although I do not hope to turn again Although I do not hope Although I do not hope to turn Wavering between the profit and the loss…………
Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden, Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still Even among these rocks Sister, mother And quiet spirit of the river, spirit of the sea, Suffer me not to be separated