Lent is the time each year when the Lord allows us to see our enormous need for redemption and how willingly He offers it.
Jesus also models for us how to spend this time of transformation. "The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan."
In the desert, our humanity is tested. The desert is a dry and barren place. Fierce, wild beasts inhabit it. Food is hard to come by. Our humanity is threatened. For John the Baptist, food was locusts and wild honey. For Jesus, food was contemplating the will of the Father.
When we choose to embrace hardships, there has to be a reason or a cause. Athletes spend time strenuously training to compete in contests. Soldiers go through basic training to prepare for fierce battles.
Christians enter Lent to discover their spiritual weaknesses and how to allow Jesus to transform those weaknesses into virtues. We do not enter a physical desert, but we enter into that time in the Church when we're surrounded with reminders to take an assessment of our spiritual well-being.
The selection of Lenten readings, their focal points, and related Lenten devotions such as the Stations of the Cross and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, remind us of Jesus words in the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent: "The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel."
As we're immersed in these readings day after day, we become more aware of the hope God has placed in our hearts to ultimately live a life of happiness with Him for all eternity.
This hope is the fruit of seeing the discrepancy between our daily actions and God's expectations of us. Throughout the Scriptures, God constantly reminds us that He has more mercy than we have sins. This gives us hope that He will win in our lives if we give Him permission.
That hope is expressed in the first reading when God tells Noah, "See, I am now establishing My covenant with you and your descendants after you...." He continues, "Never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood." He says, "When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between Me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings."
The covenant He will reveal in the future is the covenant of His love on Calvary, dying to destroy all sin but not the sinner.
The second reading develops this theme. "Beloved, Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that He might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, He was brought to life in the Spirit." On the cross, Christ offered His body up in death, in order to put to death all sin so that mankind could be reconciled with God.
Christ died for all humanity, for all those born since the beginning of time. St Peter tells us: "In it He also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark ..."
You might ask yourself, "When did He preach to the spirits in prison?" In every Sunday Mass, in the Creed, we pray, "He descended into Hell." This doesn't refer to the place of the damned but rather to that place where God was keeping those who tried to be faithful to His covenant.
The faithful dead were the first ones to hear the good news of the resurrection. Jesus preached to them in order that they might have a clearer understand of where He was taking them and how He was rewarding them for their faithfulness. An ancient homily used in the Liturgy of the Hours during Easter week depicts Jesus visiting our first parents, awakening them to the resurrection.
The Gospel brings all of this to the light of day. God's covenant of love, first promised to Noah, drives Jesus into the desert to prepare Himself for preaching the good news. He allowed Himself to experience being tempted by Satan, as well as by the flesh. He prepared to speak to all the weaknesses of humankind, in order to offer hope of victory over all sin. In Hebrews 4:15 we read: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin."
Lent then is a time when we invite God, through His word and the Church's teachings, to show us our sins so that we can rejoice in asking forgiveness for them. It is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We don't fast for the sake of fasting, but for the sake of helping us to give up sin. We pray in order that God might show us the sins He wishes us to acknowledge so that He can free us from them.
Simply put, Lent is the time of year when we invite Jesus to expose our weaknesses with His word, in order that we might rejoice in repenting and receiving His mercy. When you read God's word, do so by giving God permission to expose your sinfulness so that you can rejoice in allowing His mercy to wash you clean.