February 20, 2012
First Sunday of Lent [February 26, 2012]
The Christmas season is complete now and, with that, we know that the next season will be Lent and Easter. In some sense I think that we are never quite ready for Ash Wednesday or the First Sunday of this season. On the other hand, we welcome these 6 weeks because many issues in our life have probably been building up over the past year and we know in our heart that we need to confront them.
Lent, truly, is a gift for us all: It is a different kind of season, a serious time, a time of reflection and new intent. Would we really get serious and take a broad look at our life if the Church did not offer us this special time? Speaking for myself, probably not. For that reason then we need this special push, this engagement with the reality of our lives. I always look forward to Ash Wednesday and those weeks that follow it because I know that I will come away the better for it. Yes, it’s true, we will all come back to revisit Lent again next year and the year after that, not simply because of liturgical law or a sense of guilt but because, deep down we know that time and the world are hard on us, indeed, our own weak spirit does not help us much either. And so given all that, we feel happy that we have the whole Church supporting us in this huge effort to turn away from sin and follow the gospel once again.
As the old saying has it, on Ash Wednesday and during Lent sin goes to church. We go to Church because we know that we are not alone. We will be in Church, among the community of the faithful giving our all to this great effort of discovering who we are and where we belong.
The question, of course, that arises for many Christians at the Lent’s beginning is, “so, what am I going to do this year?” From past experience we know that the options are overwhelming: We will go to church daily, we will read some special spiritual book we have been putting off, and of course, following the suggestion of the scriptures, we will pray, fast and give alms. I have no argument with any of these, except to ask the question, “Why,” why are we planning to do all these things? In some sense, I suppose, we have the hope that these will change our life, or that we will choose to do them for penance sake, to make up for our wrongs. Nonetheless, from my own experience, I can tell you that penances are not magic; they do not solve or eliminate long entrenched habits. But, still and all, we continue to practices because we feel so good afterward. We’ve made the great effort and that in itself seems to be a reward.
For my part, however, I am always brought back to the gospel on the Lent’s first Sunday, the one you just heard, Jesus’ being driven by the spirit into the wilderness where he faced the three universal temptations that we all experience in our own lives.
Here is what happens: John has just recently baptized Jesus in the Jordan. Then immediately he goes out into the desert, the quiet place where there will be no distraction and it is there that he will think about his life now and about his future. Will he go the way of other young men of his time and make a name for himself? Or will he listen to that quiet voice deep within and try to figure out what this mysterious call means?
We all know the answer, of course, his choice is still making us wonder today, wonder what the Good News means, what the Kingdom of God means, what justice and peace and concern for the poor means. It was to these issues that Jesus eventually dedicated himself.
All this leads me to say that all the so-called Lenten practices we have “practiced” before are not in vain, but rather that they must be preceded by doing what Jesus did, to think and reflect and ponder about who we are just now, what we are capable of for God’s kingdom.
In other words, Lent, it seems to me is first of all a time for deep interior reflection: Who am I just now? What gives my life meaning, what is my bliss, what continues to keep me from achieving that Christian goal I set for myself each Lent?
Obviously, if we are thinking about Lenten penances, this one will surely prove the most difficult of all because we usually will insist that everything is really okay in our life and promising to do a few penances will make it all perfect.
My own suggestion, therefore, is simply to keep quiet during Lent, do some good spiritual reading to deepen our sense of self, spend at least 15 minutes of reflection daily in our own desert. I am not sure whether there will be any noticeable external changes in our lives by Holy Thursday, but at least we will have had to face ourselves and ask hard questions. Chances are that we will not notice many spectacular, long-term changes in our life-behavior but that’s not the goal. The goal is simply to take a serious look at life as it appears to us just now and let the spirit move us in the right direction.
Posted by Cindy Lentine on February 20, 2012 08:58 AM.