The winter in South Dakota has gone on long enough. People say, “I am so sick of winter. I can’t wait for spring.” This year has been particularly dark, cold and wintry. Perhaps you may have said this yourself or at least thought it. We do get tired of the coldness and the “dead of winter” where there seems to be the absence of new growth, and new life. As I have traveled across the plains of my diocese in western South Dakota, I see very little signs of new life. Perhaps as you look out your windows all you see is dirty snow or barren ground. The colors around us are drab and flower bulbs in the frozen soil are yearning to break through, waiting to be transformed into the new life of spring. All of us know that if we wait long enough, if we live in faithful hope, this Old Man Winter will be transformed and we will see the changes in creation for which we have been waiting.
Many ranchers who are in the midst of calving season find themselves experiencing the cold and the darkness of night as they drive their four-wheelers across the frozen snow to reach that mother cow. But it is worth the experience when a new creation happens and they help to bring a new life into the world.
Ash Wednesday is upon us. For Christians who enter into this season of Lent beginning, in similar ways, our hearts too, are like Old Man Winter waiting to break forth with new life. But before we can experience the new life of spring, we must live through the dark days of a spiritual winter. This paradox constitutes the season of Lent – a spiritual winter as a season of grace.
To what is the season of Lent calling us? Much more than a calling, Lent is inviting us to metanoia (in Greek), a conversion of heart and a growing desire for repentance. Conversion is the gradual shift from what I want for my life to a greater priority and preference for what God wants for my life. This metanoia happens when we begin to see our true selves, with all the imperfections, and believing that God still loves us in spite of them. That is the beauty of conversion. It is the work of God loving us into holiness. Like the work of God loving that new calf into the world, Jesus desires to bring about a new birth of holiness in each of us.
As Pope Francis shared in his Lenten Message, “The celebration of the Paschal Triduum of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, calls us yearly to undertake a journey of preparation, in the knowledge that our being conformed to Christ (cf. Rom 8:29) is a priceless gift of God’s mercy.” This is the gift of Lent.
A journey into the season of Lent, while it affords us the opportunity to look inward, if taken seriously, it will always lead us outward in the service of charity towards our brothers and sisters. Prayer, fasting, and alms giving are the keys which open the door to the service of this charity and lead us into an interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ.
Through this journey of preparation, when taken seriously, we will experience the bursting forth of spring in our lives. This bursting forth of spring is the love of God in Christ Jesus who came among us to save us from our sins – the real grace of conversion and new life.
— Most Reverend Robert D. Gruss is the Bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota. Prior to his time in the seminary, he worked as a commercial pilot and flight instructor for almost 10 years. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa in 1994 and in July 2011 he was ordained and installed the Bishop of Rapid City. He also serves on various boards and committees, including on the Board of Directors for Catholic Rural Life.