We began Lent yesterday in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Today at our community Mass Fr. Roch Niemier, OFM shared with us that what we hear in the Scriptures today from the Prophet Joel is a call to “turn.” That is the essence of Christian conversion – turning the heart to God. Ascetical practices, then, are only meant to aid is in this direction. Fr. Roch referred to the Lent of 1213 when St. Francis of Assisi had someone row him to an uninhabited island in a lake. St. Francis stayed there all Lent to pray and fast. He had some bread and other provisions with him on the island. But Francis so wanted to identify with Jesus in the wilderness for his fast of 40 days (cf. Matthew 4 and Luke 4) that he himself went to pray alone in a wooded wilderness on this remote island. His purpose was to turn his heart intensely to the Lord. It shows us that Francis’ whole life was a constant turning to the Lord – that was the goal of any ascetical practices. And so, for us, said Fr. Roch, any ascetical practices we undertake this Lent (e.g. avoiding candies, smoking, alcohol, etc) are to help us turn to the Lord. What good is it if on Easter Sunday we simply return to the former activities (e.g. smoking) and our hearts have not turned to the Lord?