Have you ever wondered when did Lent actually begin? In the ancient church the notion of penance became a very popular part of Christian life. Gradually periods of time for prayer and penance took on a more defined identity and in those early centuries a period of prayer and penance for several weeks leading up to the celebration of Easter took shape and somewhere, sometime, I’m not exactly sure when but the season of Lent was born. But when did it really begin?
I think it all began at that time in Jesus life when, as we read in Mark’s gospel for example, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert (wilderness) where he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts and angels ministered to Him.” This, to me, seems to be the beginning of the lesson to us that when Jesus went into that wilderness, He went to prepare himself for what was to become the next part of his journey on this earth and all that he was to do to carry out his ministry of teaching, healing and confronting the reality of temptation, for Mark also says that while in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by Satan.
The presence of the Spirit with Jesus during those days in the wilderness I don’t believe was a silent presence. God sent the Spirit to be with Jesus during those days as a source of strength and companionship. Jesus would turn to his companion on this journey to seek the strength and wisdom to respond to the devil as we know he did at those moments of temptations. We must remember that Jesus was also fasting and doing penance during these days. Physical weakness and tiredness can make it all the more difficult to resist such temptation.
Now, as we are about to begin our journey of Lent in just a few days we need to remember that just as the Spirit accompanied Jesus when he went into the wilderness for this time of prayer, fasting and penance, so the Spirit accompanies us as well. I wonder if we ever think of that as we embark on our annual Lenten journey. The Spirit is there with us and what a waste it would be if we regarded him as a silent partner, or even forgot that he is with us and with a purpose. Just as the Spirit was both a companion to Jesus and a source of strength, comfort and guidance, so he wants to be for us.
What a difference our Lenten journey might be if we begin with the awareness that we’re not going alone. Any kind of a journey is a much better one when we are going with a companion. Just as that’s true in the ordinary trips we make, so to have the presence of the living Spirit of the Lord as our companion for this journey makes all the difference in the world.
Let us pray for each other, especially in these days leading up to the start of what can be a truly grace filled adventure. Let us open our hearts to all that the Lord wants us to be during these forty days of Lent. God is always good to us, so let us be good to God and use all the graces He will offer us during our Lenten 2021 journey.
To all a truly blessed Lent!