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Called to Conversion: Why We Look Forward to Lent

By Deacon Keith Fournier
February 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

CHESAPEAKE,VA (Catholic Online) - When I was a young man I was part of the Steubenville miracle, the renewal of the College of Steubenville and its metamorphosis into the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The Lord used a wonderful Franciscan Friar named Fr Michael Scanlan to accomplish that work. I had the privilege of calling him my friend.

At his side during those early days was a group of priests, who shared his deep faith and helped him to build. They stood with him as he did spiritual warfare, suffered, prayed and persevered in the work. Like Fr Michael, they had the courage to do the hard work which early days of such efforts always require.

I thought of two of those priests this Sunday as I listened to the words St Paul wrote to the Corinthians in what is often referred to as the Hymn of charity. It was the second reading at the Sunday Liturgy. (1 Cor. 12:31 - 13:13) One of those priests was a Passionist named Fr Philip Bebie, CP. Another a Franciscan friar named Fr. David Tickerhoof, TOR.

Fr Phillip prepared my wife Laurine and I for the Sacrament of Marriage. We will celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary in a few weeks. Fr Phillip had a tremendous influence on us both. He was a holy, humble, happy and very human priest - whose love for the Lord and devotion to Our Lady shone through in every area of his life.

He lived, suffered and died, as a witness of the power of cruciform love. I believe he is one of our contemporary saints who is not (yet) canonized. I dedicated one of my early books to him. I will forever be grateful to the Lord for this treasure of a priest who revealed Christ the High Priest to me at such a vital time of formation.

During our marriage preparation, Fr Phillip once said to me "Keith, I know how much you love Lolly (her nickname back then). I also know that married love, which participates in God's love, matures, grows through the seasons of life and has as its intimate goal your mutual holiness and heaven. Marriage is about becoming a saint. You two will help one another grow into the Image and likeness of Jesus".

He then read these words aloud to the both of us from St Paul:  "Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Finally - and this is what I remembered specifically this past Sunday - he directed me, "Keith, as your married life unfolds, and you continue to love your wife "as Christ loves the Church" (Eph. 5:25) and raise your children, I want you to return to those words regularly. Where the text says "love" - I want you to substitute your name and make an examination of conscience."

He continued, "pausing at each expression of the virtues which are the manifestation of love being made perfect, I want you to ask yourself this question - and answer it with honesty before the Lord -  How Am I doing?"

Well, thirty eight years later, after Laurine and I have lived our vocation to Christian marriage in the heart of the Church, raised five children and now have six grandchildren, I still hear those words of that saintly priest and realize - I have a long way to go in this Way of following Jesus and becoming like Him.

Realizing the need to continue progressing in my response to the Lord's invitation to love as He loves (John 13:34), I was also reminded of Fr David Tickerhoof, TOR. Fr David was a gregarious and holy man whose love for the Lord was infectious. I lost track of him over the years but recently discovered online that he is a missionary in South Dakota. I was not surprised.

Back in those early Steubenville days, about a week before Ash Wednesday, Fr David would tell me "I am looking forward to Lent." The comment perplexed me. I thought it was strange. "Why would anyone look forward to Lent", I wondered. In my 20 year old mind, mistakenly thinking as most 20 year olds do that I knew everything, I would dismiss the comment as some sort of odd piety. 

Yet, Fr David had the wisdom borne only of age, experience and longevity in walking the Way of the Lord. I now echo the words I once thought so odd, "I am looking forward to Lent" and younger folks think I am odd. Ah, the seasons of life and love!

Lent is an invitation to ask the question Fr Phillip recommended, "How am I doing?" - and to be brutally honest before the Lord in my answer. Then, it is an invitation to get to work from the inside out. Lent is a gift given to us by the Lord, but we have to unwrap it and apply its remedial and healing prescriptions. We will soon have that chance.

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