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How To Approach Lent as a Return to God with Father John Burns

Lent is just around the corner, and Father Dave welcomes back Father John Burns to the show to discuss his new book, “Return: A Guided Lent Journal for Prayer and Meditation.

One image Father John uses to begin the season is being “sculpted by heavenly teaching.” He explains, “This kind of work of repeating the seasons or going through Lent every single year, it shapes us. It’s a set of habits that really sculpt the inner man or the inner woman for something. In the Church’s wisdom, that something is fuller worship, fuller embrace of the gifts of God, a fuller life and conformity to Christ. It feels a lot in Lent especially, when the work of the season can be grating or cutting, or painful, or difficult to confront our sin. That painfulness comes into context where we’re like, ‘Oh, God’s actually just trying to help me look more like him. God’s trying to make my life look like Jesus’ life.’”

WATCH: Lent in 3 Minutes

Father John reflects on our own free will and says, “We have to be the ones to choose to consent to God’s gift, to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. We have to choose to hear the call to return…That’s up to us. And if we’re just kind of going through the motions, or faith doesn’t feel like it’s alive, or I don’t have any fire. A lot of the time, there’s a little part of my will or a sense in which my will is just kind of partial. I’m for God, but I’m also for myself. And I need to examine that and see like, where am I choosing myself? Where is self-will still really strong?”

While the power of free will can be daunting, Father John discusses the beauty of this challenge. “When our lives turn away from sin and back to the Lord, there’s a joy that comes from that, that wasn’t there even before the sin,” he says. “We don’t sin in order to cause greater joy later on. But there’s something beautiful [that] God lets us run away, and he lets us go as far away as we want. Then says, ‘Whenever you’re ready, come back, come as close as you like, and I’ll bless you there.’ And that experience of return to the Lord is, that’s Easter faith. That’s that’s the joy of what it is to say, ‘Yes, Lord, I will follow you.’”

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Father Dave notes how even people of strong faith can become complacent. “I think maybe the danger for those who are practicing their faith, those who are going to church, might be tempted to think, ‘Well I don’t need to return, I didn’t go anywhere. I’m here, I’m showing up.’” 

Father John agrees and responds, “The actual phrase is return to me with your whole heart. And that whole-hearted thing is really where the real fine tuning comes to conversion. Like if we’re going to Mass or we actually do something during Lent, there’s a degree of having returned to the Lord from our sinfulness. But is it our whole heart? Or are there still little portions where we keep our idols, we keep our comforts and are like, ‘Yes, Lord, you and this,’ or ‘I’ll come with you, Lord, and I’ll bring this.’ There’s always a partiality or a lack of wholeheartedness.”

However, he explains how we can draw inspiration from the saints this Lent. Father John says, “Some of the saints started off way worse than any of us here listening probably have ever been. There’s such hope there. And then there’s this desire of them from heaven to befriend us and help us recognize it. Like, ‘Look, the return to the Lord, the whole-hearted thing, conversion; it’s really worth it. Because once you see what’s on the other side of the veil, you would never sin again. But you haven’t seen it yet.’”