We begin Lent this year with the world under the cloud of war.

Pope Francis asked that we pray and fast on Ash Wednesday for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, whose homeland is under attack from Russia.

We ask the Lord of Peace to touch the hearts of the aggressors, and move them to conversion. We pray for a just peace that recognizes the dignity and sovereignty of the Ukrainian people.  

Every war, in some way, has its beginnings deep in the human heart.

Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?” St. James asks in the New Testament. “Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?”

Our hearts are divided. The good that we want to do, often we do not do. Too often we find that we are pulled in the opposite direction, away from what is good and true and beautiful. The apostle St. Peter wrote that we must “keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul.”

We know that our Christian life is a daily struggle for self-mastery, to overcome our natural inclinations to selfishness and self-love, and to direct our love wholly to God and to our neighbors.

What makes our lives a beautiful adventure is that we are walking with Jesus and relying upon his grace to help us. It is Jesus who sets us on this path. He is the One who calls each of us by name to follow him; he calls us to be holy as he is holy, and promises to show us how.

Lent is a privileged moment that we have, each year, to concentrate on our struggle, to really work on making progress in our ongoing conversion to Christ.

I was reading one of the saints, St. Josemaría Escrivá, in my own preparations for Lent, and he said this: “I have decided not to let this Lent go by like rain on stones, leaving no trace. I will let it soak into me, changing me. I will be converted, I will turn again to the Lord and love him as he wants to be loved.”

That is the attitude we all should have in Lent. I encourage you to visit our website, LACatholics.org, often during these next 40 days.

There, we have prepared a variety of resources to help you to make this a Lent that will change you. We are concentrating this Lent on some essentials for our spiritual growth — the daily examination of conscience, regular confession, praying for others, and practicing mercy and tenderness.

No one can make progress in the spiritual life without developing the habit that the saints and spiritual masters call the “examen.” This practice was emphasized especially by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and it is essential for all of us.

We need to make a good examination of our conscience every day, without fail. It is not difficult to do, it takes two minutes. Do it either at the end of the day or sometime near the middle.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you review the day — the blessings you received, the good you have done during the day, and the ways you have sinned or fallen short. Thank God for the good, tell him you are sorry for your failures, and make a resolution to improve.

Do this every day and you will find that you know God better and know yourself better. You begin to see yourself as God sees you, with all the tenderness that he has for you, and the beautiful things that he wants for you.

Confession becomes much easier when you have this daily habit, and I will write about this beautiful sacrament of mercy in my next column.

Praying for others every day is another important habit that we ought to develop. It helps us to grow in compassion, and to become less selfish and self-centered.

And our prayer must be matched by our actions. Which is why during Lent I am urging that we become more intentional about practicing tenderness.

Pope Francis has said that all of us must be “active players” in what he called the “revolution of tenderness” that Jesus began.

This is our mission, as followers of Jesus.

We are called to walk with him, and work with him to spread the tender mercy of God in the world, beginning with the people in our lives. This is what our troubled world needs, above all. More kindness. More tenderness. And it starts with you and me.

Pray for me, and I will pray for you.

Let us keep praying to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for peace in the world. And let us ask her to help us to make this a Lent that lasts, and to play our part in the tenderness revolution begun by her Son.