If you travel to Israel today, you will find a monastery built on a mountain from which you can see one of the oldest cities in the world, Jericho, continuously inhabited for 11,000 years. From the monastery you can also see the river Jordan where Jesus was baptized. This monastery, run by Greek Orthodox monks, marks the spot in the desert where every Lenten journey begins: with Jesus in the desert for forty days.
Saint Luke writes that Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit for forty days of prayer and sacrifice. He remained separated from the world in order to prepare himself for the mission that God the Father had confided to him. As an athlete practices before a race or game, in the same way a soldier trains for months before going to battle, in the same manner a musician practices his or her instrument every day before a concert, Jesus prepares his soul before beginning his public ministry. He has to be strengthened before setting out on his mission.
During Lent, we imitate these forty days that Jesus spent in the desert. It is a time for us to exercise our soul, our whole being, in a way that for the rest of the year we may be ready to be faithful to Christ. The season invites us to do penance, to offer sacrifices to the Lord, imitating Christ himself.
If we can offer God something small such as ‘eating less’ or ‘not eating this’, if we can ‘limit our cell phone use’ or ‘internet use’, if we can ‘restrain from sweets’ or ‘get up a bit earlier to pray’, our ability to choose what is good will be strengthened. If we can say ‘no’ to small things, if we can deprive ourselves of small things, we will be ready to say ‘no’ when temptations and occasions of sin arise.
Lent is a season to get things right with God by strengthening both our will and desire to be faithful disciples of Jesus. Lent is an invitation to join Jesus in the desert so that by imitating Him we can grow in holiness and strength.
Pictures are mine, all rights reserved. Top: Paracas National Reserve, Peru (2015), Bottom: Jericho (2015).