The readings for the day can be found here.
From Ash Wednesday to the Wednesday before the Holy Triduum preceding Easter Sunday, Catholics and men and women of any number of other faith traditions all over the world observe Lent, a liturgical season often associated with drab colors, limited food options, and giving up any number of things we like and probably often shouldn’t do, anyway. Some merely regard Lent as an opportunity to quit smoking, diet, and quit doing any number of things we might like, but need to control, or stop, altogether.
Lent is, though, more of an opportunity, a real opportunity to enter into more profound shifts in our lives than losing weight—not a bad thing, but certainly not the only thing. Lent is, in fact, an opportunity to enter more deeply into the life of Jesus, the life of the Kingdom we say we pray for, the Kingdom we try to help create, the Kingdom we individually and collectively clearly need. Lent is, in fact, an opportunity for a real, long-lasting attitude adjustment.
This grand opportunity for change–for conversion, probably more precisely—can reconcile us to God, to the Kingdom, to ourselves, to each other.
Have a blessed Lent…
Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
On this first day of Lent, God calls us understand the love by which we were created, the love we’re called to spread to each other, the love understands who we are in relationship with God. If our prayer, in Lent and out, can be simply Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned…we’ve begun our own journey, our own return to Jesus with our whole heart.
How do we do this? We do it in prayer, fasting and almsgiving—the same methods Jesus prescribed for his disciples. These three opportunities open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, helping us prepare for our own change, our own conversion. These three opportunities help us draw attention away from ourselves and give the glory to God, because we’re praying, fasting and giving alms for God.
Lent is a retreat, for all practical purposes, punctuated by regular retreat-like practices. We pray, we fast, we perform acts of charity. We look at our own hearts, checking what we say and what we do, and how those coincide. We seek the freedom, in this and all retreats, to follow God as God calls us to follow Him.
Our Lenten retreat helps us recall the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, and Moses on Sinai, and the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness, all seeking God. We can seek God as well this Lent. We can seek freedom this Lent. We can return to Jesus with our whole heart. We can ask God to create a clean heart for us, to renew a steadfast spirit in us. We can pray and fast and give alms, all for the glory of God.
We can. And Lent is a great time to do it.
Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.
Are you hungry for God and do you thirst for his holiness? God wants to set our hearts ablaze with the fire of his Holy Spirit that we may share in his holiness and radiate the joy of the gospel to those around us. St. Augustine of Hippo tells us that there are two kinds of people and two kinds of love: “One is holy, the other is selfish. One is subject to God; the other endeavors to equal Him.” We are what we love. God wants to free our hearts from all that would keep us captive to selfishness and sin. “Rend your hearts and not your garments” says the prophet Joel (Joel 2:12). The Holy Spirit is ever ready to transform our hearts and to lead us further in God’s way of truth and holiness.
Why did Jesus single out prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for his disciples? The Jews considered these three as the cardinal works of the religious life. These were seen as the key signs of a pious person, the three great pillars on which the good life was based. Jesus pointed to the heart of the matter. Why do you pray, fast, and give alms? To draw attention to yourself so that others may notice and think highly of you? Or to give glory to God? The Lord warns his disciples of self-seeking glory – the preoccupation with looking good and seeking praise from others. True piety is something more than feeling good or looking holy. True piety is loving devotion to God. It is an attitude of awe, reverence, worship and obedience. It is a gift and working of the Holy Spirit that enables us to devote our lives to God with a holy desire to please him in all things (Isaiah 11:1-2).
What is the sure reward which Jesus points out to his disciples? It is communion with God our Father. In him alone we find the fulness of life, happiness, and truth. May the prayer of Augustine of Hippo, recorded in his Confessions, be our prayer this Lent: When I am completely united to you, there will be no more sorrows or trials; entirely full of you, my life will be complete. The Lord wants to renew us each day and give us new hearts of love and compassion. Do you want to grow in your love for God and for your neighbor? Seek him expectantly in prayer, with fasting, and in generous giving to those in need.
The forty days of Lent is the annual retreat of the people of God in imitation of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Forty is a significant number in the scriptures. Moses went to the mountain to seek the face of God for forty days in prayer and fasting. The people of Israel were in the wilderness for forty years in preparation for their entry into the promised land. Elijah fasted for forty days as he journeyed in the wilderness to the mountain of God. We are called to journey with the Lord in a special season of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and penitence as we prepare to celebrate the feast of Easter, the Christian Passover. The Lord gives us spiritual food and supernatural strength to seek his face and to prepare ourselves for spiritual combat and testing. We, too, must follow in the way of the cross in order to share in the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection. As we begin this holy season of testing and preparation, let’s ask the Lord for a fresh outpouring of his Holy Spirit that we may grow in faith, hope, and love and embrace his will more fully in our lives.
“Lord Jesus, give me a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, and a great love of you. Take from me all lukewarmness in the meditation of your word, and dullness in prayer. Give me fervor and delight in thinking of you and your grace, and fill me with compassion for others, especially those in need, that I may respond with generosity.”
Fr. Paul Stark, S.J. is Vice President for Mission and Ministry.