February 18, 2024
A Message from Fr. Quan
“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.”
Lent is a 40-day season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. It’s a period of preparation to celebrate the Lord's Resurrection at Easter. Lent is a time in imitation of Jesus spending forty days in the desert. Jesus fasted in the desert and overcame the devil’s temptations. Jesus never sinned but in the desert he was tempted, and during these forty days of Lent, we remember Jesus in the desert as we try to overcome temptation in our lives and to overcome sinfulness. Lent is a time to put our souls before a mirror and see ourselves as we really are. Lent is an invitation to allow our sin, darkness, and wounds to be healed by God’s grace. During these forty days of Lent, we do not hide from our sinfulness or prevent God from speaking to us or healing us during this Lent. Lent is not only about helping others, about doing something, it is also very much about the type of person we are.
It is also important to note where Jesus begins his ministry. It is not at the temple or some palace in Jerusalem. Israel had expected a political military Messiah. St. Mark wants us to change expectations and understand the Suffering Servant Messiah comes from the desert and from Galilee, a backward suspect area. Indeed, the desert was also considered by the people of Jesus’ time as a place to meet God most intensely. Israel’s experience showed that. It was a place for deep intimacy and encounter with God. All distractions are gone. It is just God and me, a thought both exciting and scary. The desert showed a provident God who provided for the people by giving them water and food for their journey. The prophets would remind the people of what God had done for their ancestors as a call to return to a desert spirituality. Every Lent the Spirit of God that drove Jesus into the desert leads us into the desert of our hearts, into the wilderness within us. The desert of our hearts is the silent place where God speaks to us and reveals what actions of self-giving would be most pleasing in God’s eyes.
Since the early centuries, the Church has suggested that we undertake three things during Lent: praying, fasting, and almsgiving. It is for this reason that the Gospel text for Ash Wednesday every year is Jesus’ advice on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18). During Lent we want to pray more, fast, and help the poor. Lent gives us an agenda which should be practiced every day, namely to participate in the paschal mystery of Jesus, his life, passion, death, and resurrection. Lent tells us that pain, suffering and death are realities in the experience of every human. The Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent tells us the first test of Jesus, but the rest of St. Mark’s Gospel will show us that the battle will continue all the way to the cross. Likewise, being baptized does not mean we have a free ride. We need to be aware of the many forces of evil around us, and they are everywhere! We must be ready to confront them knowing that baptism gives us support for this task. Baptism is our commitment to follow Christ and God’s commitment to be with us on our pilgrimage. We’re not alone in the desert struggle. Jesus shares with us his grace and Spirit to face whatever temptations await us this Lent.
Lent offers us as a new beginning, a new start. Gazing upon the merciful face of God and God’s love for sinners is one way to recognize that all is Grace. We are to be clothed with the mind and heart of God which Jesus has revealed to us in his ministry of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace. We are challenged to allow ourselves to be led into the grace of this moment that we call “Lent” and to face our most vulnerable selves. I hope and pray that we have 40 days to make things right with God, 40 days to be ready to celebrate his resurrection.