March 01, 2020
First Sunday of Lent
Dear Followers of Jesus,
In Lent, we capture a glimpse of our real selves, our lives in Christ Jesus. Along with Jesus, we enter the desert. This place is not a physical desert such as Jesus entered. For us, we enter the tumultuous landscape of the human heart. It is here that God will do the healing and the forgiving. It is in the heart’s lonely terrain that God will allow us to let go of our quest for self-identity, self-possession, only to create our roads out from the rough paths. In Lent, we become aware once again, that we belong to Jesus alone.
On this First Sunday of Lent (Mt 4: 1-11), we begin in a place of self-emptying. The desert is hot, brutal, lonely and unforgiving. It is a place of death. However, if we follow Jesus, then we will tread the only path we know to redemption and love. He is all we have in the desert, the one who turns his back on the devil so to stand up for all of us. There is no evil that claims us after this. Jesus begins his triumphant quest along the sandy lines of desert life. If we have the courage, we too, may discover that evil does not win and that love and his true presence break down the barriers of everything that we may think is darkness and evil.
Lent means, “springtime.” Lent is a journey to get us from the deserts of sin, division and heartache into the place where love is. Lent is an affirmation of our baptism. This is the place where life will bloom again. Lent is the reestablishment of the Garden of Eden, now in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. We turn dust into greenery, hopelessness into redemption. The springtime that we seek is to renew our baptismal lives in Christ Jesus and our connection to the Christian community. In other words, we find at the end of our Lenten journey, our connection to Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.
Traditionally, the Church suggests that three disciplines become helpful in the desert terrain—prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three actions are not an end in themselves. They are simply tools.
Prayer is a discipline that can help us focus our lives again on Christ and not ourselves. We can leave our self-preoccupation at his doorstep. Our sins, selfishness and self-hatred has nowhere in our hearts to thrive when Christ is within us. Prayer is simply turning our lives into the direction of Christ Jesus and forgetting everything that we think keeps us from him. We pray so to find our lives in him. We pray because we will always belong in Christ Jesus.
Fasting is a way in which we let go of anything that fills up our lives or our consciences that becomes unwieldy or obsessive. Food is an obvious distraction. Cutting back we actually become aware of our deeper hungers in God. We may fast from impulse shopping. We may fast from sexual fantasies that become obsessive or compulsive. We may fast from quick judgments about other people or situations. We may fast from things that we know we cannot do anything about, such as outcomes of political elections or Church politics. We fast from always making ourselves better than we are, making ourselves look good in other people’s eyes. We fast from thinking that we are never good enough for God. This is a big one, fasting from constantly putting ourselves down. We already belong to him; we are made for him.
Almsgiving is healthy for every Christian. Lent is not a private devotion. It is not a time to obsess about getting the Christian life correct. Lent is a time of self-emptying in order to be filled with Christ and to learn to share such love. Helping others begins with small gestures, with instinctive kindness and assisting others in love. Almsgiving is offering people part of the love we have received in Christ. Bringing others into the Light of Christ becomes our journey into the tenderness of the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.
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Thanks for this, Fr. Ron, a wonderful perspective on what Lent can be.