As we begin Lent, it is hard to miss the signs and symbols of the season. The purple fabric in both vestments and the liturgical environment as well as the absence of the Alleluia and Gloria call attention to the penitential nature of these 40 days. The Scriptures, the prayers and the music call us to change our minds and our hearts, to deepen our response to the Lord and to “reproduce in our lives, his self-sacrificing love.”
The absence of plants and flowers and the starkness of bare branches and desert sand in the sanctuary or around the ambo remind us that we are to be intent upon the journey, traveling “light” and unencumbered to the Easter feast.
Today’s Scriptures use the metaphor of journey for this 40-day period of renewal. In the reading from Deuteronomy, we recall Jacob’s journey into Egypt to join his son Joseph during the time of great famine. Years later, when the Israelites had become so numerous, Pharaoh feared their power and enslaved them. But God heard their cry and, through Moses, led them to freedom by means of an arduous desert journey that lasted 40 years.
After his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was led into the desert where he prayed and fasted for 40 days. This period was the immediate preparation for the mission to which his Father had called him. And these desert days were the first stage of what would be a three-year journey that would end in Jerusalem with his death.
As we enter this journey of 40 days, the church invites us to fast, to pray and to give alms. We fast and abstain at least on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (unless our age or health prevents this). We “give up” eating meat on Friday. Many of us make an effort to attend daily Mass or spend more time reading the Scriptures. Parishes offer additional devotional opportunities with stations or parish missions. The manner of fasting, the kinds of prayer we choose, and our outreach to others may be unique. But whatever we do will help us to examine our lives and reflect upon the compromises we’ve made or the areas of spiritual laziness that may have crept in. This Lent is our preparation for the next phase of our life journey, and for the mission to which the Father still calls each of us.
While we focus on God’s call to each of us, the Lenten journey is never made alone. Those preparing for Baptism and reception into full communion at the Easter Vigil join us on this road. Our brothers and sisters who are already baptized and who, like ourselves, seek a deeper commitment to Christ, walk the same path. And we assist, with our prayer, example and words of encouragement, those who may have moved away from the church and who now seek to return home.
As a diocese we are very aware of the Catholics Come Home initiative this year. Lent is the church’s annual invitation to all of us to “come home” to our Father’s house where all are welcome. May we pray and fast and walk together these days in gratitude for this time of grace.
Sr. Rehrauer is the director of Evangelization and Worship for the Diocese of Green Bay.