New life at Lent

Published on 27 Feb 2020

You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone [1].  Lent invites us to prepare for Easter by focusing on God alone.  The season is modelled on Jesus’ readying himself in the desert for his mission: he fasted for forty days and forty nights [2].  New life is promised us in the resurrection.  We are the children of God whom he rescues from death.  Jesus Christ will cause everyone to reign in life [3].  The prayer, penance and almsgiving of Lent are a life-giving help to us in achieving focus on God alone.  Praying more intensely we will be drawn into divine life.  The season is expansive rather than narrowing yet it centres our attention on One.  As we repent of our sins, our erring presents itself to us as, above all, an offence against God.   We may well have injured other people and wrought destruction in the world. Our contrition for these hurts, however, includes the realisation that all of them are acts of disobedience to our creator.  A God who loves us and does us only good is rejected: in the wounds of Christ we glimpse the enormity of what we have done and against Whom.  Finally, our help given to the poor during Lent is full of that respectful love which arises from seeing with new clarity the suffering of our brothers and sisters, who, like us, are beloved of our Father, who has made us all and holds us together in being.

God has breathed into us the breath of life [4].  The days and weeks before Easter allow us to understand that this divine inspiration is constantly renewing itself in us.  The life-giving Spirit is within, guiding us towards an eternity of happiness.  We live under a general providence and are called to cooperate with his particular plan for each of us. Do not cast me away from your presence nor deprive me of your holy spirit [5].  We are being made aware of the strength of God and his goodness but also of our own frailty and vulnerability. Give me again the joy of your help; with a spirit of fervour sustain me [6]. We are humbly conscious of our tendency not to do what God wants.  We are easily tempted into a forgetfulness of him by our other desires and preoccupations.

In this holy season, we go to prayer with a renewed conviction that it is God above all that we desire and seek. O Lord open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise [7]. Our prayer, animated by the Spirit, gives glory to the Source of life.  To pray is to enter into the divine presence: seeking, listening and going deeper.  Freed by the peace which is conferred on us, we express without inhibition what is in our heart.  As we pray, we receive life. Gratitude fills our heart and expresses itself sometimes in words, sometimes in a holy silence.  Lent also accommodates the labour that is prayer when the warmth of devotion is absent.  We remain faithful, trusting in divine love and thankful for the ways in which the Lord teaches us.  He chooses sometimes to so in desert-dryness. Faith, hope and love sustain us in silence and attention, in praise and worship and also in simple perseverance.  When it seems that there can be no prayer the Holy Spirit prays in us[8].  Prayer draws energy and shape from the certainty that we do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God [9].   

In the desert with the Lord there are certain renunciations. Be off, Satan [10], said Jesus, there, to the tempter.  In Lent, we are similarly uncompromising in our rejection of evil, of temptation and of whatever could be, for us, a rival to God. Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods [11].   We renounce false gods and stop trying to usurp the place of the one true God.  There is repentance for the idolatry and rebellion into which readily we fall.  God wants us to see clearly and to have all the knowledge of good and evil which we need. He himself confers on us wisdom and understanding.  God is goodness itself.  He gives us himself. We accept him, however, on his terms.  He is, after all, God.  He teaches us by commands which keep us on the right way. His training of us has prohibitions [12]. In the Lenten wilderness we contemplate from a distance the paradisal garden from which sin has excluded us.  The Lord shows us how to stop wanting what we cannot ever have or for which we must wait. We accept the divine timetable.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned, what is evil in your sight I have done [13].  A component of our joyful Lenten focusing on the life-giving God alone is our penance.  We are sorry for our sins and we ask for help to be more self-controlled.  Divine grace, coming to us…through Jesus Christ, is an abundant free gift [14].   The strength is given to us to submit to the will of God.  There is self-denial in this.   We also find in ourselves profound gratitude to that friend, the grace-giving Christ, who transforms discipline and asceticism into praise for the Father who gives fullness of life. That we have offended him we readily admit. My offences truly I know them; my sin is always before me [15].   We return with relief to a right understanding and to the life of virtue. Put a steadfast heart within me [16].  There is real offence to the unsurprised, unchanging God in the wrong we do and the good we omit or neglect.  He has made us for goodness. Can he be thwarted?  His providence copes with our straying if we can allow ourselves once more to avail ourselves of its shelter.

The Lord teaches his way to the poor [17].  Our generous Lenten alms arise from the solidarity with all his creation which God teaches us with renewed encouragement when we focus exclusively on him.  Into our well-centred prayer comes a fresh awareness of the needs of the world, and especially of those in need.  To our penance is added a strong sense that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.   Many of our brothers and sisters have been dealt a very difficult hand.  What can we do to help?  Perhaps our self-denial contrives that there is a little more left over from what is needed to meet our obligations which could be shared around?

You must not put the Lord your God to the test [18].  Lent invites us to submit ourselves, through prayer, penance and charity, to the rhythms of a life-giving season.   We do not, however, emphasise our hopes and expectations.  This time is offered without strings to the One who is the Lord of all.  We are not bargaining with God or challenging him.  With his help, we are trying, in this favourable moment, to want what he wants.  He is giving us new life but not because of our Lenten efforts.  By the obedience of Christ, many will be made righteous [19].  We are being drawn into the Paschal mystery in which sin and death are replaced by goodness and life.  Once there was a willed departure from the garden.  Now, through forty days and nights, God guides us back to where he wants us to be.  As we focus only on him, he gives us new life. In the recovered garden the tree of knowledge is the cross of Christ.  We may eat its fruit and, indeed, we will not die [20].  In this new garden the tomb is empty.  Life abounds.

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]     Matthew 4.10

[2]     Matthew 4.2

[3]     Romans 5.17

[4]     Genesis 2.7

[5]     Psalm (51) 50.11

[6]     Psalm (51) 50.12

[7]     Psalm (51) 50.15

[8]     Romans 8.26-27

[9]     Matthew 4.4

[10]    Matthew 4.10

[11]    Genesis 3.5

[12]    Matthew 9.14-15

[13]    Psalm (51) 50.4

[14]    Romans 5

[15]    Psalm (51) 50.3

[16]    Psalm (51) 50.10

[17]    Psalm (25) 24.9

[18]    Matthew 4.7

[19]    Romans 5.19

[20]    Genesis 3.4