The Church calls this a "joyful season" because we're embarking on a time to renew our minds and hearts.
A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.For every tree is known by its own fruit.For people do not pick figs from thorn bushes,nor do they gather grapes from brambles.A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks. —Luke 6:43-45
We would be hard-pressed to have better readings for the Sunday before Lent begins. These teachings of Jesus—on judging others and the fruitfulness of our lives—help round out the sixth chapter of Luke and what we now know as the Sermon on the Plain. Here, we find Jesus inviting us to reflect on the movements taking place within our minds and hearts, particularly with regard to how we relate to other people.
The season of Lent is a time for Christians to “get back to basics,” focusing on the quality of our discipleship. This means that Lent isn’t an end in itself. Rather, Lent—the word comes from an Old English word meaning “springtime”—is ultimately oriented toward our celebrations of the Resurrection at Easter and our renewal of our Baptism Promises on Easter Sunday.
We are reminded of this by the words of the Mass, as we recall that God “gives us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed … as we recall the great events that gave us new life in Christ” (Preface of Lent I).
Here’s why Lent was “created”
As we know, the traditional bona opera (“good works”) of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These actions focus our attention on what is most important in our relationships with God and others, while enabling us to set aside some of the “stuff” that consumes our time and energy, or that distracts us from what is truly important.
To that end, this Sunday’s First Reading and Gospel can help reflect on the movements of our heart that should guide these acts of penance and charity, especially as we think about what might be obscuring our spiritual vision and preventing us from recognizing the sometimes-hard truths about where we might be in our journey of faith and commitment to follow Jesus on the path of conversion.
With this in mind, we can also look to our Second Reading, taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, as a reminder that the grace of conversion called for by the season of Lent comes to us only through the victory of Christ and it is by this grace that we know “that in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
In essence, these readings are inviting us to look at our lives and the realities of the world around us with clear eyes (see Luke 6:41-42) and to reflect on the fruit of our lives.
Are there areas in our lives that need to be more carefully nurtured and tended? Are their “branches” that need to be pruned, so that other areas of our lives—including our prayer and ministry—can be more fruitful? How can we more effectively respond to the needs of those around us, sharing our time, talent, and material goods to help others to bear greater fruit in their own lives?
As we approach the season of Lent, take time to read Pope Francis’ Message for Lent and prayerfully consider what bona opera will help you grow in your discipleship and commitment.
Pray for the grace to recognize and remove the “wooden beams” that obscure your vision, so that you can honestly recognize the areas of growth in your life. As you think of the prospect of renewing your baptismal promises on Easter Sunday, how you do feel the Lord inviting you to a deeper faith commitment? Do you see these days of Lent as a “joyful season” of faith growth? Why or why not? What will help you enter into these holy days with a greater sense of peace and expectation?
Words of Wisdom: “Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all creation.”—Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2019