A lot of the literature written about the season of Lent would give the impression that we’re about to begin a really grim and gloomy time as we prepare for the celebration of Easter. This is not so, writes Archbishop Phillip Wilson, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a six-week period that is meant to be full of joy. Lent is about recognising the truth about our lives: our own sinfulness, our weakness, the fact that we need to work at developing our relationship with the Lord.
But all of this is done against the background of our overwhelming awareness that God has come into the world to save us: that Jesus lives very close to all of us in the life of the church.
The greatest moment of our life is our baptism, and Lent is designed to rediscover that wonderful moment when the Lord first came to us and claimed us to be His own. The highlight of Lent is Easter Sunday when at all of our Masses we stand and renew our baptismal promises.
For most of us they were made by our parents and godparents, and their realities in our lives is what we strive to live by since the day of our baptism.
But at Easter Sunday we have the chance to renew them with real vigour and love in our heart. All of Lent is designed to help us to have the freedom of heart to help us make that renewal in the best way that we can.
There are three elements to Lent: more sincere prayer, care for the poor and a real commitment to discipline by perhaps fasting or just denying ourselves some pleasure that is an important part of our life. The reason for this is to free our spirit so that we’re able to really make this great commitment to the Lord on Easter Sunday.
Lent is also a time for us to pray for those people in our community and abroad who are suffering, in particular, the people of Christchurch who have had their lives shattered by the recent devastating earthquake and are trying to come to grips with the death of loved ones and the turmoil it has created for many of them.
After the devastating floods throughout much of Australia, we are left wondering what disaster might strike next. But in the midst of all this, we find some solace in the knowledge that Jesus himself endured great suffering and died on the Cross for our salvation.
His ultimate sacrifice enables us to live with the hope that one day we will enter a new way of life that is fuller, more blessed and more beautiful than we will have in this world.
So when we pray for the repose of people’s souls, or whatever language we use when we commend people to God, we are not just wringing our hands in anguish over their disastrous death but expressing our deep hope that the promises that Jesus made will be true for them.
As Jesus looked out from the Cross in his last moments and spoke to the thief who had expressed faith in him, so too Jesus reaches out to all those who die and offers them hope and peace……“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
As our Lenten journey begins, I reiterate that this is a great time for us and I hope that when we gather on Easter Sunday to celebrate our Easter faith that all of us will have a wonderful experience of really freely choosing to be with the Lord.