Before Jesus began his public ministry, he went out to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. By himself. The desert is a dangerous place. In that part of the world, at that time in history, there were all kinds of dangers. The heat is suffocating, sometimes reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit. There were wild animals; snakes, scorpions, lions, panthers, bears. And, perhaps more annoying, insects that bite, like flies and mosquitoes. But Jesus was not entirely alone. The devil was there.
Having endured the unendurable, he was ready for the final test: his crucifixion.
This is what Lent is about: to join our sufferings to those of Jesus. We will not be confronting wild beasts nor the devil. Rather, we have an opportunity to retreat from our less than healthy habits, purge ourselves of obstacles that pull us down, and thus be ready for Easter. It’s not possible to skip this step. One has to pass through the trials of Lent. The only way to new life of the resurrection is to rid ourselves of our selfishness through this annual world-wide time of purgation.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us what we are to do; pray, fast, and give alms.
In times past, Lent is extremely severe. Every day was a day of fast. No meat, no in between meals, no weddings, no celebrations, no flowers in the church, no music at Mass. There were penalties attached to these rules.
Today, there are only today, Good Friday, and the Fridays of Lent where those over 14 years old are encouraged to give up meat. Fasting, that is only one meal plus two smaller meals and no snacks in between is only for those who are over 18 and under 60. But the spirit of penance still applies, now we are asked to choose which things or behaviors need to be moderated or completely done away with.
It is not necessary to tell you to pray. One is supposed to be doing that every day. This is a Catholic school where we do pray every day. It’s not an empty gesture; it’s when we communicate with God.
Giving alms–that is money– is a bit more problematic. Students don’t get paid for being students. But there are other ways of giving that do not require money. Alms means to give of one’s gifts to others. And it should hurt a little bit, since we all have a bit of possessiveness about our time or our talents or ourselves. Helping around the house, being kind to those in our lives we take for granted. Being kind to those we don’t like. That doesn’t cost money. But it does cost ego.
Thirdly, the matter of fasting. As young people who have a rigorous schedule of class, homework, projects, sports, and other activities, you need nourishment.
The question is what kind. I would suggest whatever it is that is unhealthy. But be careful.
One, example, it is a custom to give up candy. That’s a good thing. Sugar is a poison. It negatively affects the body and the brain. But to stop suddenly has negative consequences…Sugar is not only a poison, it is an addiction. It tastes good, gives a rush of energy and the body wants more. It’s best to taper off, day by day. There are 40 days to get the poison out of one’s system and so arrive at Easter, with a clean body and a clean mind. Maybe by then, one will discover a new energy.
The same applies to junk food. But you already know this. It takes discipline to eat properly. Lent is about discipline.
You could also give up your smart phone one day of the week. But that might be asking too much.
So why should we be doing this in the place? These are minor inconveniences; minuscular sufferings, if you will.
But everyone has their inner sufferings, most greater than most people know. Discipline in minor matters gives us courage to deal with major matters.
Jesus went out to the desert to encounter the Father. Scripture tells us he was pushed out there, so to speak, by the Holy Spirit. This is a good example of the Trinity at work.
Our focus during Lent is the cross. The death of Jesus saved the world, once and for all.
But look around; there is war and rumor of wars, there is poverty and misery throughout the world. Some people behave badly. One good example of that is the way some people drive; recklessly and dangerously and rudely.
If the world is re, then why is there so much suffering and pain?
It’s because we have not done our part. St. Paul says in his Letter to the Colossians the following often neglected statement:
“I rejoice in my suffering…and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s suffering for the sake of God’s people…”
Christ’s work of redemption is our task as well. Otherwise, what need is there of church or Christians?
Easter is actually 46 days from now. April 16th. There’s still March and the first two weeks of April. One cannot experience the joy of Easter until one has gone through the penance of Lent.
The way to the Resurrection is by the way of the cross.