Tomorrow we begin another Season of Lent and receive our annual invitation to spend the forty days in prayer and reflection as our preparation for Easter. In a year so many times described as a year like no other because of the global pandemic which has affected each and everyone one of us, it is perhaps somewhat reassuring that the liturgical seasons continue as normal, albeit without access to Mass and the Sacraments for so many who are in some kind of lockdown situation with churches closed.
In Lent we are invited to slow down our lives and according to Pope Francis “to devote ourselves to a holy ecology of the heart and a time to follow Jesus into the desert.” He continues “Lent is the favourable time to make room for the Word of God, to perhaps turn off the TV and to open the Bible, a time to disconnect from our phones and connect to the Gospel.”(General Audience 9/2/21)
For many of us Lent will begin without the symbolic customary imposition of ashes with the accompanying words “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” – I cannot imagine what that will be like for millions throughout the world where more people come to Mass on Ash Wednesday than on any other day of the year. I remember in Ecuador people would be in queues outside our gates long before dawn desperate to receive the ashes. However, even without ashes we must listen to those words “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The question we must ask perhaps is “How?” Each one of us will have to find our own way of answering that question.
Ronald Rolheiser says that “ we are invited metaphorically to spend forty days in the desert like Jesus, to feel our smallness, our vulnerability, our fears and to open ourselves up to the chaos of the desert because to truly enter a feast there must be a fast and to come properly to Easter there must first be a time of desert, ashes, heaviness and tears. “ (Archives 22/2/09)
Pope Francis assures us that “ In the desert we need God’s Word even more than bread. We need to talk to God, to pray because only before God do the inclinations of the heart come to light and the duplicity of the soul falls away.” “The desert “ he says “then becomes a place of life, not of death, because dialogue in silence with the Lord gives us our life back.”
Repent and believe in the Gospel! We all know what it means to repent and we will choose our individual ways – we know what we must repent of and, I suspect, if you are anything like me, you will not run out of things to repent of even in forty days. What though does it mean to believe in the Gospel? Perhaps first and foremost to believe in Jesus and to know that when we repent we are embraced by a loving Father who unconditionally forgives us and, is His mercy, heals the wounds of our sins. To believe also means that we become faithful to reading and reflection on the Gospel – not merely listening to the daily Mass readings but spending time each day in pondering the Scriptures and allowing them to penetrate our hearts and minds. Only in this way can the Gospel become central to our lives as followers of Jesus and only by knowing the Scriptures can we attempt to give witness to them in our daily lives.
To be faithful to the Gospel means to love no matter how many times our love may be rejected or tossed aside, to love those who irritate and annoy us just as much as those who are easy to love, to love even when we are hurt or broken hearted. Unlike our fasting and almsgiving which are our personal ways to repent, our love must be visible to others for as St Peter says (1Peter 1:22-23) “See how they love one another.”
In deciding what means we will use to try and come closer to God this Lent, let us be mindful of what Pope Francis says and “not take the easy option.” While we are praying let us give thanks to God for keeping us and those we love safe and well. Let us thank Him for doctors and nurses who work tirelessly on the front line of disease. Let us praise him for scientists who have discovered the vaccines. Let us remember those who are sick at this time and let us ask eternal rest for all who have died and comfort for all their families and friends who mourn them.
Let us walk hand in hand with the Lord this Lent that we may journey safely and securely to Easter.
With my love and prayers
Sister Maureen, FMSJ