In the liturgical cycle of readings, this Gospel from Mark was originally only 2 verses – later the church added 2 verses – but it is still the one of the shortest Sunday readings. It tells us only that Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit immediately after his baptism to be tempted by the devil for 40 days. Why do the evangelists make a point of 40 days? You know that: it recalls the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the desert. And remember the prophet Elijah journeyed in a desert for 40 days and nights, making his way to Mt. Horeb. Some say that 40 is simply a symbolic number. Even if it is, Jesus chose to follow that symbolism as a lesson to us. We set aside 40 days for our season of Lent, to travel through a wilderness of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.
According to St. Benedict the purpose of Lent is to purify our way of life and to wash away negligences of the past, to make reparation for what we have done or failed to do. He names five practices to help change our hearts
- refuse to indulge in evil habits,
- devote yourself to prayer,
- holy reading,
- compunction of heart and
We’ve heard the expression “practice makes perfect” so often that the full meaning may have lost its impact on us. But consider the Olympic skater who has to forego serious practice for close to a year due to an injury. Then only last month found out he would be in the Olympic competition. In two rounds he fumbled, fell – he received a creditable score but did not do his personal best. Until the third round, the fourth round … then he shone!
Each year at the beginning of Lent we may feel like that skater. We’re not doing our personal best. Lent gives us a “third round.” As Benedict says in Chapter 49, during Lent we are called to be the kind of person we should be every day. Lent gives us a jump-start of courage to pick up the practices that will support the values we profess to believe in. The biggest temptation most of us have to face is to “give up” because we stumble, maybe fall – like that skater we may have to put a hand on the floor once in a while to balance ourselves. The only way to rise to the challenge of Easter is to persevere … in doing what we know is right, in being faithful to what we’ve promised God, in heeding that first word in the Rule – “listen” – and in loving others as God loves them, and us.
This evening at the close of prayer we will ask God’s blessing on our attempts to be what we were created to be. We promise to pray for each other and ask God’s gift of strength and courage to persevere in our Lenten resolutions.
BLESSING RITE (for resolutions papers)
Aware that Lent is not merely a time of atoning for sins but a time of preparation. We prepare throughout Lent to become at Easter what we were once baptized into: Christ’s own body. We will practice habits which will break us open, let God in, and train us to love like Christ.
Therefore, our loving God, we come before you at this time in our lives to bring, praise – a plea – and a promise – that we will gently remind ourselves that (all) “Lent is a process of rending our hearts, filling the broken places with God’s love, and fearlessly loving as Christ loved.
We place before you, O God, our sincere promises to use your grace to become the people You call us to be. Trusting in your all-powerful goodness, we dare to ask:
- L) Give us renewed fervor to be faithful to our commitments. AMEN
- L) Help us to be compassionate and supportive to one another. AMEN
- L) Bless our efforts to make a good Lent. AMEN
- L) And support us to be faithful to our Lenten resolutions. AMEN