“Your inmost being must be renewed, and you must put on the new man.”
These words from St. Paul (Ephesians 4:23-24) summarize the goal of the Lenten journey, indeed, the goal of the Christian life. As the church enters the desert for these 40 days, we do so in the company of Christ, we do so in our life-long pursuit of God. Lent allows us to focus on the deepest desires of our soul and provides us with the courage to do what our soul desires according to God. Lent is fundamentally a time to bring God’s will for us into clearer focus. As the prophet Hosea proclaimed, the desert is the place God leads us to speak to us his word of love. (Hosea 2:16)
I have been thinking of the connection between the readings this past Sunday and their relevance for our Lenten journey. On Sunday, Isaiah spoke of his experience when through a vision he encountered the Living God. Likewise, we heard in Luke’s Gospel of the life-changing encounter between St. Peter and Jesus. Lent is the time for us to give ourselves over to God. During this season of prayer and fasting, it is primarily an inward journey of the heart we make to delve more deeply into relationship with the Living God in the person of Jesus Christ.
The experiences of Isaiah and St. Peter tell us that God longs to be in relationship with us. God longs to reveal himself to us. This desire of God for us is the perfect match and the only fit of the desire our soul has to know God and to love and follow Jesus Christ.
When Christ entered the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, he was led by the Spirit. His time in the desert was an intense period of communion with God, his Father and our Father. (John 20:17) The public ministry of Jesus was the express fulfillment of the Father’s will; of God’s desire to redeem the world. This redemptive mission of Jesus entailed many trials and temptations which only served to further temper his own obedience and love. We can expect nothing less in our own journey to discover God’s will.
This inner journey to God allows God to speak to us of his love. In the wilderness of Lent, we seek to give ourselves over completely to God that we may realize to what degree we are fully known and infinitely loved by God. Entering the depths of relationship with God is how we ‘put out into the deep’ (Luke 5:4) and allow ourselves to be captured by God. It is from the truth and reality of this vibrant relationship with God that we draw courage and strength to face the trials and struggles of this life.
Christ came into the world to be the face of the invisible God. We do not enter the Lenten desert and journey alone. Christ accompanies us as he was led by the Spirit. Christ comes among us as the Good Shepherd. His desire is to lead us to God and the fullness of God’s Kingdom. Thus Jesus alone can say: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
In the face of such truth and guidance, we are led to recognize our sins, and with full freedom, we are called in this season of Lent to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As we allow this Lenten journey to draw us into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God, we will long to be free of the sins and habits of life that hold us back in our love for God and our love for our neighbor. Jesus teaches us that “The Lord is God; we are his people, the flock he shepherds.” (Psalm 100) Lent provides the light and grace to recognize the ways our world has reversed this biblical truth and leads us astray by tempting us to believe that we are self-sufficient; we are our own god, and that God exists to serve our needs.
Our Lenten resolutions, whatever they may be, are meant to re-orient our lives to God. Lent is the time to seek God’s perspective. We renounce the worldly temptation to focus on self and follow the pattern of Christ who teaches and models how to make a gift of self to God and to others. We long to know how God sees me, how God sees each human person, how God views the world. We seek to advance God’s Kingdom and the unique way he invites each of us into the true human labor of building up the Kingdom of God. In short, we long for God to lay hold of us, and never let us go!
Today we enter the Lenten journey. Today we ask Christ to actively renew his life within us, the life we received in Baptism. Today, we pledge to no longer be a passive believer, but one who actively follows Christ. Today, we ask for the grace to live our faith consciously, actively, freely at all times, in every moment in every day. Today, we declare ourselves for Christ and his Church, and that we will live in fear of God and no one or nothing else. Today, the love of Christ lays hold of us and compels us forth in hope that from the fasting and prayer of these 40 days, we will know new life in the Living God and the Risen Christ.0