Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.
For those of a certain age Lent raises memories of giving up something we enjoyed – candy, movies, and other things we liked especially. The old sense of Lent saw this time as one of self-imposed penance and spiritual discipline. The religious expression of the season took the form of the Stations of the Cross, daily Mass, and other devotional practices. The general feeling that prevailed is that Lent was to be endured.
A sense of prayer, sacrifice, and charity toward others are authentic hallmarks of the Lenten season. We sense a genuine need to identify again with the suffering of Jesus. The new challenge is to see all these practices and prayers in the light of the Church’s annual retreat in preparation for the Easter Triduum. During those three days new Christians will be born from the font of Baptism, and all Christians will welcome them with a with an enthusiasm rekindled anew through reliving our own rebirth in Christ.
Above all Lent is about the Sacraments of Initiation. Baptism is about going down into death with Christ and being raised up with him to glory. This death and rising can be celebrated only after it has been experienced and lived in the daily fabric of human life. Lent is about dying to self for the life of others. Lent is about dying to all human supports which blind us from seeing that true life is in God alone. Lent is as serious as coming to know that the deepest meanings of human life are seen in Jesus, who fights every temptation to take the world by power, force, or the razzle-dazzle of miracles.
When Lent begins on Ash Wednesday we are signed with ashes in the form of a cross because we live under and in that sign. The sense of Lent as preparation for Christian initiation and its renewal is clearly proclaimed in the Sunday readings. Our practices of prayer and charity lead us to the renewal of our baptismal promises in solidarity with the catechumens who will unite themselves with the Church through Baptism. This is our special time of opportunity to enter more deeply the mystery of our faith, the Paschal Mystery. Holy Thursday is the last day of Lent. With the celebration of the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Lent ends and the Christian community enters into the annual celebration of the Passover of the Lord and unbounded joy.
Lent launches the neophyte on the journey to our eternal destiny and re-commissions the initiated. Lent commissions us and energizes us.
“Look upon us as we enter these Forty Days
bearing the mark of the ashes,
and bless our journey through the desert of Lent
to the font of rebirth.
May our fasting be hunger for justice;
our alms, a making of peace;
our prayer, a chant of humble and grateful hearts.
All that we do and pray is in the name of Jesus.
For in his cross you proclaim your love
for ever and ever.”