“The Lenten period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin” (Pope Francis’ Lenten letter for 2019).
The Church begins this season of Lent by reading on the First Sunday, of this privileged season, the story of Christ’s going into the desert for forty days to do battle with the temptations offered by the Devil. In regard to Christ’s time in the desert, Pope Francis has written the following in his Lenten letter for 2019: “The Lenten period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once again that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin.”
This is a beautiful image that is worth reflecting upon as we begin the season of Lent. As Christ goes into the desert to be with the Devil and face temptation, he goes to a place that is dead and without life. To choose sin, and to be with the Devil, brings only death and isolation from God. Throughout the Lenten season, we will hear about the forty years spent in the desert by the people of Israel before they learned to trust in God and were brought to the promised land of milk and honey, where they would live in God’s presence. Today, our own Lenten journeys are marked by symbols which remind us of the death that is brought by sin and the life that we are to find in Christ. On Ash Wednesday, we will begin our journeys of conversion by coming to church to have ashes imposed upon our foreheads. These ashes remind us that without Christ the only future for us is death and a return to the dust from which we came. We are to turn away from sin so that we might enjoy eternal life through faith in Christ. The abundance of the life that is to be found in Christ is symbolized when we renew our baptismal promises and are sprinkled with holy water. The holy water with which we are sprinkled at Easter reminds us of the abundance of grace that we are to find by turning away from sin and accepting eternal life through faith in Christ.
During the Lenten season, we are all called to turn away from sin so that we may renew our baptismal promises on Easter Sunday. Traditionally the Church has presented three different ways by which we might all renew our spiritual lives during the Lenten season. These are fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We are invited to embrace these paths of spiritual renewal, not just for the sake of turning away from sin, but also to grow in love for God and neighbour. Lent is not about righteous self-contentment. Lent addresses each of us with a call to fall passionately in love with the God who has saved us by the life, death and resurrection of His Son. Lent is about learning to love others, and forgive them, because God has forgiven us so much and loved us so profoundly.
In his 2019 letter for Lent, Pope Francis has written the following about fasting, prayer and almsgiving:
Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything to satisfy our voracity and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.
In our own parish, there are several ways that each of us may enter more deeply into this privileged season of spiritual renewal. Every Friday during the Lenten season the parish will pray the Stations of the Cross at 7:00 pm in the Church. On the First and Last Fridays of the month, when the parish has a 7:00 pm Mass, the Stations of the Cross will be prayed immediately following the 7:00 pm Mass. Once again this year, the Jesuit Scholastic Community will lead our community in a Lenten retreat. This will take place on the evenings of Monday, April 1, Tuesday, April 2, and Wednesday, April 3 at 7:00 pm in the Church. Fr. Joseph Schner, sj, will introduce the retreat by preaching at the Sunday Masses on the weekend of March 30/31, 2019 and the other evenings will be led by other members of the community.
As the season of Lent is a privileged time to turn away from sin, as we prepare to renew our baptismal promises on Easter Sunday, the Church encourages all Catholics to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation before Easter. There will be special times to do that here in the parish. Confessions will be heard on Ash Wednesday after the 7:00 pm Mass and on Good Friday after the 3:00 pm Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion. The parish will also have a Day of Confessions on Saturday, April 6th from 9:00 am until 4:30 pm. Confessions are also celebrated every Saturday in the church from 3:45 to 4:30 pm, or by appointment.
Fasting and almsgiving are two themes that rightly go together in Lent. The purpose of our fasting in this season should never be only for the sake of suffering. God does not ask us for this kind of useless sacrifice. Fasting ought to be done in order that we might deepen in our love for God and our neighbour. If you are going to give something up this Lent, do it so that you might grow spiritually or give to someone in need. If you give up coffee, liquor or candy for Lent, donate the money that you save to help the poor. If you give up television or playing video games, use the extra time that you have to do spiritual reading or to help or assist another person who could use your help.
In the Archdiocese of Toronto, one of the ways in which we are asked to give alms each year is by donating to the Archdiocesan ShareLife campaign. This campaign always takes place in Lent because it is one of the essential ways that our local Church lives the Gospel. All of the charitable outreach that is done in our diocese takes place through the support of ShareLife. Catholic agencies like Catholic Family Services, Covenant House, homes for men and women recovering from addiction, or being released from prison, houses for unwed mothers, the Office of Refugees for the Archdiocese of Toronto, and many international outreach programs are all funded by ShareLife. These charities cannot operate without your support. Your generosity to ShareLife is greatly needed. This year our parish goal for ShareLife is $44,300.00. I would ask each parishioner of St. Peter’s Parish to please give as generously to ShareLife as you are able.
Lent is a privileged time in our liturgical year to turn away from sin and turn towards God. As the images of Lent remind us, it is a time to turn from death to life; to turn from the selfishness of sin towards the joy experienced in the love of God and neighbour. When we rely only upon ourselves and our own strength, we are all helpless before the power of sin and temptation. As Christ shows us through His trials in the desert, the only way to conquer sin and the Devil is to turn to God and to trust only in the power of His grace. Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life. During Lent, and in fact every day of our lives, there is before each of us a choice between life and death. The Devil will always invite us to choose the selfish, and momentarily distracting, path to death through sin and temptation. Christ always invites us to choose life and love. He always offers us His grace to walk with Him. The Devil’s promises are empty and always bring death. Christ alone will always be faithful and lead us to true life.
May each of us in this Lent of 2019 turn toward Christ and the fullness of life that He offers us through His life, death and resurrection.
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor—St. Peter’s Church—Toronto