Last week I was in schools in Portadown. The juniors sang about each and everyone being special – special in the eyes of God. Each one of us has our own qualities – talents – which make us special. But the very special thing about each one of us is that we are loved by God. The children sang with such enthusiasm.

I sometimes wonder how it is that we lose that enthusiasm as we move in life for recognising that we are special and specially loved by God. We seem to lose the ability to respond to that. We become listless and indifferent and anaemic in our response to God. Well, Lent is the time when we try to do something about all of that. We are ambassadors for Christ. St Paul appeals to us. He says: “Be reconciled to God because for our sake God made Christ the sinless one into sin so that we might become the goodness of God”. St Paul begs us once again “not to neglect the grace of God that you have received”. Now is the favourable time – this is the day of salvation.

So, I beg you to use this time, this special time, well. By all means use the ways the three traditional ways of spending Lent:

1. Pray
2. Fast
3. Give to the poor

Don’t parade it. Don’t blow the trumpet. Don’t let it become an ego trip. Exercise a strong willpower. I wish you a gracefilled Lent.

Lent is not a time in which the Church asks us to put on a sort of organised gloom. We are not to take on suffering for the sake of suffering. The ashes are also a sign of penance and conversion. Once the conversion was achieved, the prophets called for putting off the sack-cloth; washing away the ashes and getting into festive dress.

We do not have unlimited time to change our lives. God and His Church do not want us to have a Lenten face but rather to have an about face today; an about turn – change of direction.

I wish you all a very happy Lent.