Moses led the Hebrews out of the slavery of Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land. 40 years they wandered in the wilderness. Our Lenten observance lasts only a symbolic 40 days but, if we live its spirit fruitfully, it is meant to be for us an Exodus as well. For Lent challenges us to come out of ourselves so that we can open ourselves – with trustful abandonment - to the merciful embrace of our loving and merciful Father.
At the same time, a fruitful observance of Lent will help us to open ourselves to others in their need so that we, having experienced mercy from God, might learn how to be ourselves merciful. Lent then is a call to us who have become too self-centered, too self-conscious to become more Christ centered and Christ conscious. As Pope Benedict wrote in his annual Lenten message, Lent “stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful towards others.”
Our Lenten journey is a memorial of our Baptism. In Baptism, we “pass over” from death to life, from slavery to freedom, from the “Egypt” of this world to the Promised Land of God’s kingdom. To have sought baptism was to have sought to become holy. For this reason, on Easter Sunday, we all will be called upon to renew our Baptismal Promises.
To renew our baptismal promises, then, means to recommit ourselves to that seeking for holiness which should be what our life in Christ means for us as Christians, as Catholics. If we seek holiness, as Pope John Paul II reminded us, then “it would be a contradiction for us to settle for a life of mediocrity marked by a minimalist ethic and a superficial religiosity”.
Lent can help us understand and appreciate what that renewal of Baptismal promises really should mean for us. To that end, the Church proposes to us some specific tasks for us during these 40 days: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And I would say these three tasks are like the legs of a three legged stool: our Lenten observance must stand on all three legs. Through these special tasks of our Lenten observance, that is through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, these special Lenten observances, we are to work on resolving “those contradictions” in our life that divert us from the pursuit of holiness.
We must pray – for any relationship can only grow through communication. Our friendship with God will grow cold if we don’t talk to him in the dialog that is prayer; we must fast – for before we can say “yes” to anything or anyone, we must be able to say “no” to ourselves otherwise our appetites will defeat all our good intentions. And we must give alms – even when, perhaps especially when, the economic forecasts are a bit cloudy. Almsgiving is a specific way to help the needy – more affected than us by economic downturns. It is also a means of self-denial freeing us for attachment to worldly goods: we are not owners but only stewards, administrators, of the goods we possess. Our Catholic Appeal which takes place during Lent every year is one way through which our alms can be distributed. The Appeal supports the many good works of our Diocesan Church – and supporting Our Catholic Appeal should be part of our Lenten observance.
Saying “No” to ourselves through some type of fasting and almsgiving during Lent, saying “No” to habits of sin by going to confession this Lent is all about helping us say “Yes” to God, “Yes” to his mercy and compassion, “Yes” to his plan for our lives – which is that we be delivered from the slavery of sin and receive the promise of the new life of grace.
Throughout our Lenten Exodus, let us look intently at Christ pierced on the cross. It is on the cross, in his “yes” to his Father that Jesus reveals to us in all its fullness the power of our heavenly Father’s mercy and love. His cross remains the only way for us to pass over into the mystery of this mercy and love – for it is only through Him, with Him and in Him, thanks to the water and blood that flowed from his side, that we are reconciled and our sins forgiven.