People pray at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington during Ash Wednesday. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

Spiritual House Cleaning

Lent is a journey of continual conversion and transformation

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Susan KehoeMemento mori: Remember you must die. The Lenten journey begins with the faithful receiving ashes as a stark reminder that this earthly life is temporary. The ashes are a wake-up call to avoid sin. “In whatever you do, remember your last days, and you will never sin” (Sir 7:36).

My husband and I start the RCIA process by telling inquirers that if they decide to come into full communion with the Church, they will not be fully converted. The Easter Vigil is not a graduation ceremony. We all sin. We live in a broken world. Therefore, the Christian life is a journey of continual conversion and transformation. Lent is a time to do some spiritual house cleaning and turn our hearts and minds toward the Lord and his heavenly kingdom.

Of course, this is not a new concept to the wives of deacons. But too often we and our husbands get caught up in all the things that need to be done during Lent and Easter and neglect our relationship with Christ. Too often I fail Lent. As I prepare the catechumens and candidates to meet the Risen Lord at the Easter Vigil, I neglect to do the hard work of turning back to the Lord.

My husband and I have had many memento mori opportunities the past year-and-a-half. I suspect that will make a difference. But there is something else that we need to consider during Lent.

Memento baptismo: Remember your baptism. Baptism immerses us into the Paschal Mystery in which we die to sin and rise in Christ. For St. Paul, baptism is our link to Easter. “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-5).

We become a new creature at our baptism. In the rite, we are given a white garment as a sign that we have put on Christ. But we live in a fallen and broken world. Our white garments are soiled. Our relationship with God is often broken by sin. Lent reminds us that we are in need of restoration. It is a time to repent and turn back to the Lord.

The penitential practices of Lent are a reminder that we belong to God and not ourselves. In baptism we receive a new life in Christ. It is a great gift. It is also a call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. The Church gives us the season of Lent to take a long hard look at ourselves. It is a time to repent and do penance. It is a time to pray more, fast more and give more so that we can live up to our baptismal promise.

Most of all, Lent reminds us that our baptism gives us the grace to become saints. It is a reminder that our true home is in heaven. Every day we choose heaven or we choose hell. My husband quips that “everyone wants to go to heaven, but most don’t want to die to get there.” It is always startling to read accounts of the first Christians who were martyred for the Faith. They went to gruesome deaths singing and full of joy. They knew who they belonged to and where they were going. Saints know that Jesus conquered death. Saints know that death completes our dying with Christ that began at baptism.

Remember death. Remember baptism. Remember that we are all called to be saints. We can’t evangelize others if we don’t evangelize ourselves first. It is a tragedy to not die a saint. In the “Power and the Glory” by Graham Greene, the Whiskey Priest finally understands just before his execution: “It seemed to him at that moment, that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would have only needed a little self-restraint and a little courage. … He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted — to be a saint.”

SUSAN KEHOE is co-director of RCIA at Christ the King Parish in Des Moines, Iowa, along with her husband, Deacon Larry Kehoe. She writes at

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