The Scriptures during Lent resound with messages along the lines of:
‘Come back to me with all your heart; …return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.’ (Joel 2:12,13); and ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near: repent and believe the good news.’
For those in our parish communities who have recently been named as the ‘Elect,’ the season of Lent is a highly significant journey of conversion that will reach a high point at the Easter Vigil when they will receive the sacraments of initiation – baptism, confirmation and first communion. During this time, they, and we, will journey together with Jesus, encouraging one another and supporting one another by reflecting on our faith, taking time to pray and deepening our relationship with the Lord. The 40 days of Lent call each of us to a deeper, more prayerful relationship with the Lord. Through the prophets we are reminded of the need for returning to the gospel, believing the good news, and being good news for others through our words and actions.
At the Easter Vigil when the elect receive the sacraments of initiation, they become a new creation in Christ. They will be named and claimed for Christ, and through the water of baptism, they will become missionary disciples of Jesus. The whole community will take part in renewing the baptismal promises made long ago and renewed at Confirmation. At this wonderful celebration of the newness and freshness of life in Christ, the whole community affirms its faith in the risen Lord and commits itself to going out to the whole world to spread the good news that Christ has died and is risen to new life with God. Evil and suffering have been conquered through the suffering and death of Jesus, and we are freed in Christ to make a difference in our world so that the Reign of God will prevail.
The season of Lent offers us an opportunity to pause a while, to take stock of the directions and choices we are taking in our lives. Traditionally, we have understood Lent as an opportunity to search our hearts and minds so that we can live faithfully as followers of Jesus. This means acknowledging those times when we have sinned and failed in love – of self, God, others and creation; where we have forgotten about our dignity as Christians, created anew in Christ. There is an element of change and doing things differently. For many, this may mean ‘giving up’ something for Lent; for others it will mean taking more time with the Lord and becoming more aware of the world beyond our local and parish community.
The plight of the millions across the world suffering the ravages of war, poverty, starvation, lack of drinking water, homelessness, and nowhere to belong or call home cries out to us on a daily basis. These millions are our family: what can and must we do to alleviate their suffering? Such is the call during Lent: ‘…to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God.’ (Micah 6:8) We have to do something: and supporting Project Compassion is one great way of caring for the millions in great need.
In recent times in his reflections on the meaning of Lent and the call to each one us to be in tune with the mind and heart of God, Pope Francis has some ideas about how we might fast during Lent. He grounds his suggestions on an approach that echoes a loving-kindness way of being and doing. He suggests:
Fast from hurting words…and say kind words;
Fast from sadness…and be filled with gratitude;
Fast from anger…and be filled with patience;
Fast from worries…and have trust in God;
Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy;
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others;
Fast from grudges…and be reconciled.
The conversion required of us is both personal and communal. Together, on the way, supporting one another and being mindful of those in great need, we can come to the celebration of Easter with minds and hearts renewed.
Kathy Horan is the Adelaide Archdiocese’s RCIA coordinator.
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