With Ash Wednesday we began the Lenten journey – Though, many of us can say, we have been living it! What else could this pandemic be? And, that is fairly accurate, we just have to be clear on the purpose of this liturgical time.
The primary purpose of Lent is not penance, or sacrifice or fasting. These are all well and good. They are very important devotional practices, but they are the path, not the destination. In the experience of the Hebrews who journeyed across the desert, away from the slavery of Egypt, the 40 days in the desert was not the most important. The most important was the discovery of God, the discovery of being the People of God and the discovery of their inheritance, the Promised Land.
From a liturgical and spiritual perspective, Lent is part of a spiritual itinerary. It is the path that takes us from one setting to another: Lent takes us to Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday that makes it possible to then continue the journey to the great feast of Pentecost. This is the goal, Pentecost. Pentecost Sunday celebrates the birth and rebirth of the community that is called Church.
The first step is Lent. Lent provokes a hunger and thirst for God giving us the opportunity to discover His unconditional love, as if it were for the first time. Lent sets aside any possibility of deceiving ourselves, the reality of our human frailty is that we are sinners. But, the encounter with the Lord, makes the great difference. Holy Week, especially the last three days, the Tridium, summarizes the saving work of the Lord. On Holy Thursday, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and asks that we love as he has loved. On Good Friday, Jesus accepts the consequence of daring to love, the disposition, promise and fulfillment of the promise to die for the beloved. This takes place upon the cross. This is a moment of sublime intensity where the divine incarnation reaches its fulfillment.
On Holy Saturday, the church bells are rung because the Lord has risen. Jesus, who descended into the shadows of death, raises to eternal life. The chains of sin, of all death are broken and we are granted the freedom to live fully alive. This is why Holy Saturday is the primordial day for baptisms. The baptized, in communion with Christ, descends into the “abyss” and raises to eternal life. Fully alive with a portion of the mission of Jesus. We celebrate for 50 days the Easter event and then comes the great feast of Pentecost. Those who have been baptized – persons that have been submerged and risen with Christ, are now the living stones of the building called Church, missionaries who make visible the presence of the Lord.
With great emotion, we begin the journey. Ashes placed upon our heads, a sign of our poverty, a sign that identifies us as those who hunger and thirst. The Lord will be the bread and the cup for us, as we shall be for brothers and sisters. It is good that we already have journeyed for a while – a long while. The pandemic has been teaching us about this God of ours who is always with us. His presence is a source of consolation and transforms us into missionaries ready to share and proclaim that consolation.
Father Francisco Gómez, S.T.