Jesus Christ: Our Cornerstone

Invitation to the Schools of Missionary Discipleship

Jesus Invites Us To Share In The Good News

Jesus’ Mercy Endures Forever

Easter: Celebrating the Gift of Life!

Opening Our Hearts to Receive Jesus’ Mercy

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – First Sunday of Lent)

Time seems to go so fast at times other times it seems to go so slow. We can all probably think of times in life when we perceived time as being swift or sluggish. Many times we mark life by events that happen in time. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays all mark highlights in our lives. There are probably many more personal dates or seasons that each one of us recall to ourselves. We also mark time by seasons.

On Wednesday, we began the Season of Lent. The season is sometimes called the “Forty Days.” Some languages actually call the season by that name, for example in Italian this season is “La Quaresima, literally “forty days.” If you get out a calendar and start counting the calendar days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, there will be more than forty days. These days we use the number more in a figurative sense to match the period of time Jesus spent in the desert.

The Gospel account for today’s liturgy recalls, in a succinct manner, Jesus’ days in the desert. He goes there before He begins His public ministry. Jesus’ time in the desert may also recall the forty years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert before entering the promised land. In that case, it was a time for purification and preparation. The time was allotted for Israel’s repentance. Jesus has no need to repent so his time is different in that regard but it is for preparation.

We might think of the forty days of Lent as an opportunity to “go to the desert.” In our case, we are preparing for the celebration of the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection. Though we do not go literally to the desert, we can go spiritually. The allotted time in the busyness of the year affords us an opportunity to be strengthened for the journey of life in time preparing for life in eternity.

The short passage from The Gospel of Mark that recalls Jesus’ time in the desert has a few points we might want to consider as we are in these first days of Lent.

First, the Spirit is the one who directs Jesus to the desert. The Holy Spirit is with Jesus, and He is with us. It is the Spirit who moves us forward. He is always present. Now Jesus speaks to us through the Spirit. One of the three disciples of Lent is prayer.

Normally we take on an additional prayer routine during this season. The practice is a great way to spiritually go to the desert. Perhaps we attend daily Mass or pray with the readings of the day, perhaps we go to Eucharistic Adoration one day a week, perhaps Stations of the Cross or a rosary or spiritual reading. Whatever the form of prayer we use, the opportunity is there to listen to the Spirit guide us to a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Second, Jesus is tempted by Satan. We hear more details in other accounts but regardless the temptations are real. We all know about temptations. We face them all the time in varying degrees of gravity. The time we have in Lent gives us an opportunity to reflect on the temptations we face and to find spiritual fortitude to resist them. Temptation usually involves moving us away from charity, from love.

Perhaps the Lenten discipline of almsgiving can strengthen us to resist temptation by concentrating of doing good for others. In other words, not putting our own needs, desires or passions first but addressing the needs of others – focusing our attention on loving others.

Third, Jesus is “among the wild beasts.” The desert is not a hospitable place. Jesus is alone. Food and water are scarce. The temperatures can fluctuate to extremes. And the wild animals are a danger, especially at night.

In our spiritual journey in the desert, we may face things in our lives that arouse fear or fright; we may have to confront our own demons.

The third practice of Lent, fasting, gives us an opportunity to be strengthened to face these situations, not only during Lent but throughout the year. Surely fasting is a penitential practice but it also strengthens our faith.

When we “give up” something in Lent, and stick with it, God strengthens our will power. I think for most people, when we give up something or abstain from something, we soon meet temptation face to face. Humorously, some people might ask, “Why is it that every Ash Wednesday I have a desire to eat meat?” The practice of “giving up” something we like, no matter how simple, strengthens us for the journey. In the simple practice we become more aware of God’s strength dwelling within us – and that with him “all things are possible.”

The time we have in this world is valuable. The period of Lent gives us “forty days” to focus on our preparation for Easter where we celebrate God’s unfathomable love and mercy. It is that Love that will lead us out of time to life eternal, where every moment is now.

Our journey through Lent, in a certain sense, mirrors our journey through life. Through prayer, almsgiving and fasting, we prepare, repent, and are renewed so that, whether it seems like time flies or stands still, we live in love.

***

Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

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