Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Lenten conversions

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

“Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.” This simple formula is spoken as we receive ashes on our heads to mark the beginning of the season of Lent. These words remind the baptized that Christian conversion involves both an ongoing rejection of a sinful life and also a fuller embrace of the Gospel.

Some years ago, I heard the story of a man who was deeply troubled by his behavior and was fearful of how things would work out with his family. He was on a business trip with colleagues and one night after heavy drinking was unfaithful to his wife.

It was the first and only time, but he knew that he had terribly injured his soul and the relationship with his wife of many years. He decided to tell his wife, as he just could not live with himself. “I won’t blame you if you want a divorce, as I did the worst thing possible,” he said.

She responded with a long silence and then told him, “Yes, you did the worst thing possible, but when we were married, we said it was ‘for better or worse.’ So while you have shown me your worse, let’s spend the rest of our lives showing each other our better.”

The husband needed a conversion that involved turning away from his sin and reconciling with his wife, by taking responsibility and making amends. We all have areas in our lives that harm our souls, and Lent is a time to make a radical departure from anything that has the power to corrupt our lives, especially acts that can become addictions.

But the wife also experienced a conversion, one in which she came to embrace the Gospel more fully, particularly as she came to a new appreciation of her wedding vows. That kind of conversion is even more difficult. It does not involve a turning away from something that we did wrong, but a courage to take a new direction of being faithful to the Gospel when our world has been turned upside down.

Lent calls us to conversion in both ways. We should use these 40 days to examine the ways we are unfaithful to the promises we make to God and to others. Sin can creep into our lives and become second nature. Just think of how anger can morph into resentment, covetousness into jealousy and self-sufficiency into ignoring others’ needs.

We need to turn away from these sins and begin again. But we should also be attentive in these days to how God’s grace is working deep within us to call us to a new and deeper understanding of the Gospel. Lent has to be a time to be in touch with the graces God is giving us now, in silent and hidden ways, much like the silent undergrowth that is taking place in the soil preparing for springtime.

Maybe that is why the word “Lent” is chosen for this season, for in old English it means springtime.

“Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.” That is the call to a two-fold conversion as we welcome a new springtime in our faith lives. 


  • lent