Lent comes early this year. In fact, Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 14, and Lent begins.

The Church gives us this season of grace each year as a privileged moment to concentrate on our spiritual lives, and to really work on making progress in our ongoing conversion to Christ.

One of the saints said: “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 need, as we enter into this holy season.

Let’s not miss this beautiful opportunity that we have to grow in our relationship with Jesus, to improve ourselves, to be converted more and more in the image of Jesus!

This is what our life is meant for. We are here to be changed, to be transformed, to be converted.

We are here to become, more and more, every day like Jesus — in the way we think and act, in the way we treat other people and in the priorities that we set for our lives.

This is why Jesus gave his life for us on the cross. So that we could be set free. Free to follow him, and free to live as he intends us to live, according to his teachings and his example.

We know that we are not there yet, that our hearts are still divided. We want to do good, we want to be good. But still we find that we are pulled in the opposite direction.

So Lent gives us a new opportunity to be more serious about our personal conversion to Christ, more serious about becoming the people that God wants us to be.

Our Christian life is a daily work of striving for self-mastery, striving to overcome our natural inclinations to selfishness and self-love, and to direct our love totally to God and to our neighbors.

The traditional practices of Lent — fasting, prayer, penance, and almsgiving — are all meant to strengthen us in our identity as children of God and followers of Jesus.

We should consider these practices to be the “pillars” of our daily lives as Catholics.

As Catholics, we should be praying every day; we should be making sacrifices, little offerings to God; and we should be living with generosity, compassion, and mercy toward others.

Lent also deepens our awareness that we are walking with Jesus. It is he who sets us on this path. He is the One who calls each of us by name to follow him, to be holy as he is holy.

During Lent, we are more conscious that we are following Jesus on his way to the cross, carrying our own crosses along with him.

St. Augustine famously said that if we think we have done enough already, we are lost. “Go further, keep going,” he said. “Don’t stay in the same place, don’t go back, don’t go off the road.”

This is what Lent is all about, staying on the path, the way of the cross. How will we grow in holiness during these 40 days, what practical measures will we take?

These are good questions for us as we enter into this holy season.

In addition to the pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, maybe you can try to get to Mass more often during the week, or to make more time to pray and meditate in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

Maybe you can make more time each day for a prayerful reading of a passage of the Gospels. And of course, we should make at least one good confession during this season.

The point is that, as Augustine said, we must keep moving forward.

St. Paul used to speak of pressing on toward the higher calling of the Lord, pressing on toward holiness, or as he described it: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

This is the glorious promise that Jesus makes to each one of us, so let us make progress toward that goal this Lent!

As I often say, being a Catholic, a follower of Jesus, is the work of a lifetime, and it is always a work of beginning and beginning again.

So let us begin again, let us not let Lent go by, leaving no trace! Let us be converted, turning to the Lord again to love him as he wants us to love him.

Pray for me and I will pray for you.

Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us all to have a holy Lent and to go further and to deepen our conversion to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.