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God has blessed me with a love of, and a passion for, music. Often when I listen to songs, I am led to reflect on our relationship with God. For example, there is a popular American classic that, for me, captures the essence of Lent. The melody was written by folk singer Pete Seeger, and the lyrics are based on the Book of Ecclesiastes (3:1-8). The song, which became a hit when the Byrds recorded it in the early 1960s, is called “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season),” and the refrain proclaims:
“To everything, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose, under heaven.”
I suspect Seeger was not thinking of Lent when he set Ecclesiastes to music, but the beauty of art is that it only becomes complete when experienced by the viewer or listener. My experience of Turn! Turn! Turn! is that it is a beautiful Lenten song that sings to me of three profound spiritual movements of Lent:
Turn! toward God through fasting, which heightens our sensitivity to our own need for the Lord and to the needs of those who have less;
Turn! away from sin in penitential prayer;
Turn! to each other by giving to those in need, shifting our attention from the material to the spiritual, and from ourselves to others.
Turn, turn, turn. The refrain echoes through this Sunday’s lessons from Scripture which serve as a prelude to our Lenten journey this year.
In the Gospel of Mark (1:1-12) we hear the story of the paralytic who came to see Jesus in Capernaum to be healed. The crowd was so large that the doorway into the home was blocked, and the man was not able to reach Jesus. He turned to his friends, who opened the roof and lowered him into the home. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Some among the visitors thought this was blasphemous, but Jesus said to them: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk?’”
The paralytic turned to God for healing; he turned to his friends for their help; and, in demonstrating his faith, he had turned away from sin.
In the first reading this Sunday, which is from Hebrew Scripture (Isaiah 43:18-19, 25), we hear:
“Thus says the LORD:
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
...your sins I remember no more”
“Your sins I remember no more.” There are thousands of reasons why God, in His love, chose to come among us as Christ. But the primary reason was to forgive our sins. During Lent, we are reminded of, and proclaim, this glorious truth. Christ died on the cross so that we would live.
“See, I am doing something new!” Lent is a time of renewal, a time to stop and reflect on how we are leading our lives and to re-turn. During this economic crisis, there is a specific and real need for us to turn to others and to minister to them in their need.
The Anglo Saxon meaning of the word “lent” is spring. There is something comforting about that connection to the forty days of Lent. The earth turns toward the sun and is renewed. Because of Christ’s great gift to us, the forgiveness of sin, we can begin again. May God bless you and us during this precious season of Lent as we turn, turn, turn.
Father Richard M. Erikson is Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.