Well, Lent is upon us again. We know it happens every year, yet suddenly it’s here. Many events in life repeat each year – the seasons, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. Sometimes it’s a comfort to know that they will continue to repeat; sometimes we look at them as opportunities for growth; and at other times it seems like just same-old, same-old. Lent is one of the cycles of life. Some of us will take the challenges and sacrifices of Lent seriously. Unfortunately, others of us will just shrug it off as no big deal and will continue living the same way we lived last week. Lent is like medicine – we don’t like it but we take it because it’s good for us.
The opening prayer in today’s Mass says: “Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of your Son’s death and resurrection, and teach us to reflect it in our lives.” So that’s one of the purposes of Lent. From the very beginning, we are invited to look forward to Holy Week and Easter and to reflect. Lent challenges us to take some extra time for that reflection, to think about God and to speak with him. But God expects our prayer to lead us somewhere. Especially in Lent, our prayer must lead us to be more like Christ. Our reflections on Christ should make us reflections of Christ.
Another purpose of Lent is to break our daily routine. Most of us can easily get stuck in a rut – go to work or school, come home, interact with others – sometimes positively, sometimes negatively – eat, watch TV, go to bed and start again the next day. St. Mark tells us in today’s Gospel that before Jesus began his public ministry he went out into the desert, away from the busy-ness of the crowds and daily life, to be alone with his Father and to do battle with Satan. Jesus calls us to do the same. He invites us to take a few short weeks out of our daily routine and to slow down; to spend more quality time with God in prayer and reflection; to confront the sin in our lives and see what needs to be changed.
People in the early Church saw penance as addressing key relationships. And the same is true for us. We reflect through fasting – how do I treat myself? Do I overindulge in unhealthy things? We reflect through almsgiving – how often do I really try to help others in need? Am I really attentive to and nourish my relationships with my spouse, my parents, my children, my neighbor? We reflect through prayer – do I tend to take God for granted... forgetting about Him until I really need Him? Lent is a time to look at our whole selves and all our relationships.
Jesus emerges from the desert with our Lenten invitation: This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Know that you are loved. Jesus stands before us during Lent, in a world that is racked by Covid-19, by tensions and challenges, by violence, poverty, broken relationships, greed and disrespect, and he cries out more than ever, “Repent! Repent! And for God’s sake – literally – believe in the Gospel!” Repentance is a call to conversion, of turning ourselves towards God. Repentance leads to believing, and believing is a way of living. How will you and I respond to Jesus’ invitation?
If you have a brief faith reflection on today’s reading that you would like to share, please send it to me at email@example.com.