March 10, 2019 — First Sunday of Lent
And so it begins — the holy and, for some, daunting, season of Lent. This is the season in our liturgical year when the Church encourages us to increase our prayer, fasting and almsgiving in order to enter more deeply into the mystery of our Lord’s Passion and Death and to celebrate more fully His Resurrection. Our outlook as Christian stewards can help us embrace this season with enthusiasm and even joy.
The First Reading, from Deuteronomy, presents a beautiful and positive way to approach Lent. The passage begins with Moses speaking to the people. He reminds them that the Lord saw their affliction and responded mercifully to their cry by delivering them from oppression in Egypt, and by bringing them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses teaches the people how they should respond to such a wonderful God. He instructs them to approach the Lord with these words: “Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits of the products of the soil which you, O Lord, have given me.” In other words, Moses teaches the people to respond as grateful stewards for all that God has done for them.
As grateful stewards ourselves, we can look at these 40 days as “soil” that God is giving us as a gift to grow closer to Him and become more like Him. We can choose to use each of these days intentionally to make a generous response to our God, who sent His own Son to deliver us from the affliction and oppression caused by sin.
Jesus, by His own example in today’s Gospel, demonstrates the necessity of setting aside a period of time devoted especially to prayer and fasting as a means of strengthening our spiritual muscles. Just before the launch of His public ministry, He is “led by the Holy Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” In imitation of Jesus, we should ask the Holy Spirit to lead us into the desert, too — the desert of our interior lives where our thoughts and desires reside.
While our Lord was strong enough to withstand the temptations of the devil on His own, we most certainly are not! We must turn to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to show us where we need to grow interiorly and then rely on the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance throughout these forty days of growth.
We may discover we are weak in our knowledge of the faith and can devote these Lenten days to spiritual reading or Bible study. We may discover our prayer life has gone by the wayside and we must discipline ourselves anew and commit to a regular, daily time for prayer. Perhaps we have given in to selfishness and comfort seeking and we can determine to give up our favorite coffee drink or social media “fix” and find a project that serves the poor in our community.
If these spiritual exercises hurt a little, that means we are doing them right! It means we will have some wonderful “first fruits” to present to our Lord at the close of this season; we will be prepared to enter into the grace-filled days of the Triduum and we will, through the power of the Holy Spirit, be resurrected as a new creation with our Lord come Easter. Let us begin!