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Getting back to the basics of who we are as followers of Jesus

WOMAN STANDING ALONE

Saint Petersburg Theological Academy | CC BY ND 2.0

Brother Silas Henderson, SDS - published on 03/03/18

The roots of Lent are in the period of fasting that would prepare new Christians for Baptism.
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
“Zeal for your house will consume me.”  
—John 2:17

Did you know that our word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for “springtime.” This gives us a wonderful insight into what the days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday are all about: a season when faith and the virtues of the Christian life grow and flower within our hearts and souls. But, as Ash Wednesday approaches each year, one of the first questions we Catholics ask is “What should I give up for Lent?” And it’s a fair question because, as we know, penance is a part of Lent.

So, how do you or your family and friends answer this question? Do you give up social media? Television? Chocolate or another favorite food? Soft drinks, coffee, or alcohol? While it’s true that taking a break from any of those can be good for us, we also have to ask ourselves if these sacrifices are really helping us to grow in our lives as Christians. Lent isn’t only about doing penance. So, we have to think of other opportunities for “good works” during the Lenten Season.

The traditional works of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting help us focus our attention on what is most important in life. And, if we can think of our Lenten penance as a “good work” to be taken on and shift our focus away from what we “give up,” we will find that our Lenten prayer and devotions will be richer and more fruitful.

But there’s more at stake because, as we reflect on all of this, we remember that Lent isn’t an end in itself. The purpose of the season of Lent is to help us prepare for Easter when we will renew our baptismal commitment.  

In the first centuries after Jesus, those individuals who wanted to become Christian spent months and even years preparing for Baptism, which almost always took place in a special ceremony on the night before Easter. That night was anticipated by a time of prayer and fasting so that the soon-to-be Christians would be as ready as they could be to receive the gifts of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. This is the origin of Lent. (Our contemporary process of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is built around this model of initiation.) Those Christians who were already baptized would also pray and fast as they prepared to renew their own commitment to Christ by renewing their baptismal promises on Easter Sunday.


The Readings assigned for this Third Sunday of Lent speak to us about the God’s jealous, zealous love for us, expressed in the gift of Himself in the giving of the Commandments to Moses. These laws help us recognize what is involved in loving and honoring God, as well as how we can protect and nurture our relationships with those around us. As Barbara Reid, OP, has observed, “The God who asks this response from us offers ardent love … The way we choose to respond to this fervent offer of love carries consequences, and the effects ripple down to subsequent generations” (from Abiding Word, Year B).

Jesus himself embodied God’s zealous love for the “House”—a reference to both the Temple in Jerusalem and also for the “household” of God, the community of believers—when he sent the money changers out of the Temple.

Love, including God’s love for us, asks for only one response: love. And with this in mind, we can recognize that the days of Lent are a time to reflect on how we receive God’s love and how we have—or have not—allowed that love to transform us. We can also ask ourselves if we have been zealous for the things of God as we reflect on the quality of our discipleship and our personal commitment to following Christ.


POPE BENEDICT WITH CHILDREN

Read more:
Simple advice from Benedict XVI on how to be a better mom or dad

In the end, every Easter Sunday we are given an opportunity to renew the promises of our Baptism. This means rededicating ourselves to live as Christians in the world and to continuing the mission of Jesus, especially for the poor and those in need. The 40 days of Lent are a time for us to get back to the basics of who we are as followers of Jesus.

When have you experienced God’s deep and zealous love for you?How are you being invited to more faithful service in these days of Lent? What are the things (possessions, relationships, habits, desires) that are cluttering the “temple” of your person and crowding out God?

Words of Wisdom: “Lent is a time of returning to God … a time of refocusing, of re-entering the place of truth, of reclaiming our true identity.”—Henri Nouwen

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