Lent is a time for conversion of heart and interior renewal — a time to focus on the new life that God offers us. St. Paul speaks of new life in this way: “… whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
By means of our Baptism, we are in Christ. We are a new creation. The old things — sin, disharmony, disunity, quarrelsome attitudes and lack of trust in God — must pass away, making room for the new things to come: love, understanding, reconciliation and peace. Lent is a time to reflect, renew and reconnect to our core beliefs. We are a new creation in Christ.
Lent is a perfect occasion for us to contemplate our lives as followers of Christ. To reflect on our lives, we usually step away from our routine to enter into a quiet space so that we are able to see ourselves as we are at this moment in time. In reflection, we explore our relationship with God, and our relationships with other people. We reflect on our sins and weaknesses, the things we need to change and the things we need to ask God to change within our hearts. The quiet space we enter may be a retreat, a day of reflection or simply a few reflective moments during the course of a normal day.
Jesus entered a quiet space when he went into the desert for 40 days. He did so to commune with his father and to confront his temptations.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all relate the story of the temptation of Christ. While Mark simply states that Jesus “remained in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan,” Matthew and Luke go into detail describing three temptations.
Matthew begins the story of Jesus’ encounter with Satan with the temptation of bread, followed by the temptation on the parapet of the Temple and finally the temptation on the high mountain. (Matthew 4: 1-11) Matthew ends with the high mountain to emphasize that Jesus, on the mountaintop, is like a new Moses, and is the fulfillment of the law.
When Satan tempts Jesus, who is famished from fasting, with bread, Jesus responds with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
When tempted on the temple parapet to throw himself off to be saved by divine intervention, Jesus responds with Deuteronomy 6:16: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
Finally, when he is taken to the high mountain and is tempted with ownership of all the kingdoms of the world if only he will worship the devil, Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:13: “The Lord your God shall you worship, and him alone shall you serve.”
The way Jesus handles the temptations defines what kind of messiah he is. He is not an earthly messiah concerned with material gain. He is not a messiah who flaunts marvelous deeds to gain the adulation of the people. He is not a political messiah concerned with earthly power. Jesus, through his temptations, shows his ability to uphold what is truly of value and to see clearly his priorities as God’s Servant. Jesus will bring about salvation through his humility and suffering.
Satan departs from Jesus for a time, to return at his Passion. Even though the devil returns, Jesus dies as a person of peace and strength, God’s faithful servant, showing us the way to victory by the way of the cross.
The Paschal Mystery — the redemption brought about by the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus — is at the heart of the liturgical reform outlined by the Second Vatican Council. The Council inspired the revision of the liturgical rites to express more clearly the Paschal Mystery, ensuring “the full and active participation by all the faithful” in their worship.
The Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” focused on Lent as a time to prepare the faithful for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery. Lent helps us to focus more intensely on personal conversion, taking off the old self and putting on Christ.
The two essential elements of Lent are preparing for Baptism or reflecting on it, and penitential actions. Baptism and penance are to be lived together. Penance reminds us of the reality of evil, and our need for God’s grace. We receive that grace in Baptism, and God calls us to constant renewal of our Baptismal commitment throughout our lives.
St. Paul describes Baptism as the experience of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ within the Christian himself or herself. (See Romans 6:3f)
Baptism is new life in Christ, and death to the old self and the old life of sinfulness. St. Paul writes: “… you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)
Baptism is also incorporation into the Church and union with fellow Christians as members of one body. “For in one spirit, we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)
The return to emphasis on Baptism is at the heart of present Church renewal. Post-Vatican II theology stresses the effectiveness of Baptism beyond the cleansing from original sin. Baptism is the sacrament by which we are incorporated into the Body of Christ.
Renewing our baptismal promises is a commitment to ongoing conversion in our lives — dying to self and rising with Christ. An essential element of walking with Jesus in the desert is reflecting on what our Baptism means to us.
We live this Lenten season reflecting on our Baptism, so that on Easter we may renew our baptismal commitment. Baptism is all about what God does for us. In Baptism, God makes us his adopted sons and daughters. Whenever we renew our baptismal commitment, we allow God to transform us into what he always intended us to be — instruments of his love and mercy in this world.
During the Lenten season, most of us likely will engage in some form of Lenten penitential practices to aid us in our conversion, particularly fasting, almsgiving and prayer, which are all very helpful as we seek to continue our process of conversion. However, as we engage in these practices, it is essential that we not put so much importance on what we are doing, but rather on what God is doing for us — how God calls us, touches us and transforms us. Lent is all about God and his generous love.
In Baptism, we become a new creation. The Lenten season is a time to prepare ourselves to renew our baptismal commitment at Easter. We pray that Lenten season to lead us to true repentance and conversion, rejecting evil and proclaiming our faith by the way we live our lives.