Posts Tagged ‘2-26-2017’

Do We Need Lent? 2-26-2017

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Someone asked me in the grocery store, do we really need Lent? A good question.
There was a time, of course, when all Christians thought they didn’t need Lent. After all, they had been baptized; they were filled with the Holy Spirit and lived life quite differently from the pagans. The first real Lenten people were not Christians, but those preparing to become Christians. But all of that changed when the old-timers in the Christian community noticed something remarkable at the Easter baptism. They were struck by the joy and the radiant faces of those just baptized. They realized that they had become too ho-hum in their faith and decided to do something about it. And so, the next year, some Christians began to join the catechumens in their preparation for baptism at Easter. They did this so that they could feel once again the joy of rebirth at Easter. And that’s how Lent gradually came to the church, out of need.
The liturgy for the First Sunday of Lent focuses on a need that Jesus had before he began to save the world. Even though he had just been baptized and was “full of the Holy Spirit,” he felt a need to go into the desert. In the desert Jesus realized who he was and what he was called to do. But in the desert, Jesus learned that God cannot be bought and that life is more than bread or fleeting moments of magic and glory. One Ash Wednesday, a few years ago, while I was wondering how to face another Lent, I received a phone call from a former player I coached. He was now a struggling graduate student. The young man was crying out for help. When I got to his apartment, I found a tortured person, filled with self-doubt and booze. Eventually, I got him to go to his first AA meeting. But even though he was an alcoholic, he told me that he couldn’t go back to another AA meeting because, “I’m not like those people.” I’ve never forgotten that line, “I’m not like those people.” It taught me that the first temptation to avoid is to convince yourself that somehow you are different, that you don’t share the pain of life, that you don’t need to go into the desert.
The early Christians, even though they were baptized and convinced of their importance, learned from the desert experience of Lent that they too were in need of renewal and of finding out who they were and who God was calling them to be. Jesus, just baptized by John and “full of the Holy Spirit,” went into the desert and came out with a gospel and a firm faith in his Father that he would take to Cavalry.
My young friend was wrong. We are like those people who share a common struggle and a common pain. We are all driven by some doubts. We sometimes make choices about the most important events of our lives without reflection, without faith, without prayer, without God. We cannot force Lent upon ourselves. Each of us must find a need for it, a need to go into the desert and face both our gifts and our limits, a need to face ourselves, our demons, our God. For those who ask the question, do we need Lent? Trust me – we do! Let’s go into the desert together and see what we find.