By Fr. David Foxen, MSC
On Wednesday, March 2, we once again begin our annual Lenten journey which will bring us eventually to the challenge of the empty tomb. Each year the Church invites us to make this journey in faith. Like Christ’s original disciples we will turn toward Jerusalem to walk at his side and learn from his words and signs. We should not presume we know what he will say or what we will experience. Each year is a new journey because the circumstances of our own world and who we find ourselves to be at this moment are not what they were even a year ago. Last year we were celebrating our Masses outdoors. This year the pandemic seems to be loosening its grip. We find our world and even the Church to be divided in many ways. Our own lives offer both opportunities and challenges which are new. So even if we listen to the familiar Scripture readings on the Sundays of Lent, we will be hearing them from a different perspective. If we accept the challenge and make the effort, our journey this year should prepare us to discover new life where there appeared to be only darkness.
The church offers us many signs to accompany our journey and help us along the way. The first sign we encounter is the ashes on Ash Wednesday. The ashes call us to the reality of our own mortality and our need to bring ourselves once again into line with our commitment to live the Father’s will. His will is that we live our lives according to the values of the Kingdom. Lent is a time to reflect and examine what is truly important and what is only superficial. The ashes tell us that we and our community are committed to renewing our discipleship and becoming, like the spring flowers, filled with new life.
The church also invites us to make use of other signs. These are principally prayer, fasting (spiritual discipline), and acts of mercy and compassion. In order to be effective we have to make an effort to make them a recognizable part of our Lenten journey. We can make a commitment, for example, to dedicate some special moments each day in reflection, meditating on a passage from Scripture, or in prayer. We are obliged to fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but we are asked to abstain from eating meat on the Fridays of Lent. In addition, many people decide to give up something for Lent as a form of spiritual self-discipline. Especially significant is to reach out to others, especially those in need. Helping others is a good reminder of how Christ asks us to share his mercy and compassion with others.
Prayer, spiritual self-discipline, and kindness are good ways to help us focus on the meaning of Lent as a time of renewal and awakening new life. We also want to follow the Sunday readings at Mass as a guide to our spiritual journey. The readings point us toward the meaning of our discipleship. Lent is not just a time we “go through.” It is an opportunity to discover in ourselves how alive we are though our faith in the Risen Christ.