Our Christian life is a pilgrimage of faith.
It is all about following Jesus Christ through the desert of this world to the promised land of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is all about going wherever our Father calls us and wherever his Spirit leads us. Even to places where we might not want to go. Even to places where we never expected to find ourselves.
Lent reminds us that we need to always be growing in virtue and holiness so we have the strength we need to continue along our pilgrim way.
That is why we begin every Lent by reliving Jesus’ own journey into the desert. It is important to remember that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert immediately after he was baptized in the Jordan River. This should tell us something about the pattern of our own lives — about our own spiritual journey as children of God.
Remember that at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended and the Father’s voice declared: “This is my beloved Son.”
This is what happens in every baptism. We are anointed with the Spirit and made sons and daughters of God. After that, we are sent into the wilderness of our world as Jesus was — to serve our Father; to be his holy children; to tell others that God is alive and that his love is real.
The beautiful message of Lent is that we are never alone in the desert of our faith journey. Everything we face in our lives — Jesus has faced before us.
The Gospels reveal this to us in so many little scenes. We learn that Jesus has shared all our human joys and satisfactions. The joys of family life and friendship. The joys of prayer and worship and relationship with God. The satisfactions of hard work well done.
Lent reminds us that Jesus has also known our hard times and all the harshness of the human condition. In the desert, Jesus shared our temptation and trials. He was tempted to doubt God’s promises. He was tempted to lose trust that God is in charge of creation and that he has a plan for our lives and our world.
The traditional disciplines of Lent — fasting, almsgiving and prayer — are meant to unite us more tightly to Jesus.
In our liturgy for Lent we pray: “Father … you will that our self-denial should give you thanks, humble our sinful pride, contribute to the feeding of the poor, and so help us to imitate you in your kindness.”
Children learn by imitating their parents. And in our Christian lives, we learn to imitate our Father by imitating his only begotten Son. Jesus shows us the face of our Father and Jesus shows us the way to live as God’s holy sons and daughters.
As we all know, so often we can become our own worst enemies. We can be selfish and self-centered. We can talk too much and eat and drink too much. We can spend too much time seeking comfort and entertainment. We can get too attached to things. Sometimes, we can even become captives to our own desires.
As we make our pilgrim way through the desert of this world, Jesus is with us always in his Church.
Through fasting, almsgiving and prayer we find a way to break free from all the prisons we make for ourselves. By his grace, we learn to deny ourselves and our needs. And we find that we are able to open our hearts to God and open our hands to give to our neighbors in need.
Through these Lenten disciplines we learn to live by the truths that Jesus taught us. We ask our Father for bread, confident that he will give it to us. We knock on heaven’s door with our prayers, knowing he will open it for us. We give to the least of our brothers and sisters, knowing that the love we show to them we show Jesus.
The Gospels tell us that when Jesus was in the desert, the Word of God was his bread and the angels came and ministered to him. These are beautiful images that remind us of our life in his Catholic Church.
As we make our pilgrim way through the desert of this world, Jesus is with us always in his Church. He gives us our daily bread — in the Word that comes from the mouth of God; in the Bread of the Angels that we receive in the holy Eucharist. He forgives us our sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
So as we begin our journey through the desert of Lent on Ash Wednesday, let us pray for one another.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to make this for all of us a beautiful season of penance, purification and conversion, as we seek to imitate her Son.