You know it is the first Sunday of Lent when you hear the reading of one of the synoptic Gospels of Jesus being tempted in the desert. You know we are being invited into a special time of the liturgical year.
Noah and the Ark are brought to our memory through the reading of the Book of Genesis. We are reminded that God has made a covenant with His people that will not end. St. Paul reminds us that Noah pre-figures our baptism, which is saving each of us now in this very moment. We are being saved through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our job during this special season of Lent is to bring ourselves more closely into the image of what God has created us to be.
At Mass on Ash Wednesday, we are marked with the ashes from last year’s palms. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. We are reminded that time on earth is limited, and we are called to be responsible for the time entrusted to us. Parishes offer opportunities to assist in renewing, refreshing and reviving that pure and simple living that Jesus has invited us into.
We are each called to purification and enlightenment. For that to happen, we must work and be disciplined with the practices that lead us in that direction. What is it in each of us that needs to be purified? It might be some of our actions or our attitudes. It could be some of our inactions and unwillingness to get a move on with our lives. We might have become lazy in our faith. In the broadest sense of the word, we have settled and become satisfied with simply not doing wrong rather than doing right.
The daily Scriptures through Lent lead us toward a fuller life through self-emptying and sacrifice. These two choices are meant to mirror the life of Jesus. Our self-emptying and sacrificing are intended to leave room within our lives for the broader life of charity in love. Our lives are full of the minimal way of living. There’s not much room for growing in love.
During this first week of Lent, you may want to follow Jesus into the desert and allow yourself to notice how you are being tempted and how you react to those temptations. Most purification can happen once we become aware of where we are giving into temptation. We can become washed clean once we know what parts of us are not clean. Please don’t waste time with shame, embarrassment or unnecessary guilt. Notice what needs to be cleaned up and move toward cleaning it up. Our time on this earth is limited.
Our time of enlightenment begins when we place ourselves in the presence of God’s wisdom. When we read the Scriptures, place ourselves in the presence of God, spend time with those who live life simply and choose to sacrifice for the sake of another, we can become enlightened. If we stay within our comfortable patterns of doing Lent, very little new will probably happen to us. We will revert to the same old habits, believe ourselves to be wiser than we are, and believe we have the right and privilege to judge others so that we don’t have to look at ourselves.
At the beginning of Lent, we have an opportunity to choose. Is this another time in our life when we waste the opportunities in front of us, or is this one of those times when we wake up, choose to move in the direction of life, and do what we say we are going to do? The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe in the Gospel.
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.