Christians throughout the world are entering the first full week of the season of Lent, which stretches this year from last week’s Ash Wednesday through to Easter Sunday (April 17th). These approximately forty days (about six weeks) invite Christians to a time of profound reflection and honest life assessment, as well as to return to a deep trust in and fundamental dependence on God’s provision and care, especially where they may have gone astray. The readings in the first week of Lent draw from the scriptural stories of Jesus’s forty days of temptation in the desert, as well as to the Hebrew people’s forty years of wandering in the desert before reaching the promised land. The number forty in Hebrew and Christian scriptures is shorthand for “a very, very long time.”
The season of Lent corresponds this year to an apparent relief from our very long journey through the COVID pandemic, as infection numbers and deaths continue to drop and hope rises for a return to seeing each other’s faces and smiles more regularly. Like the scriptural stories, after this very long and challenging period of time, we hunger to feel wholeness again individually and collectively. Yet just when we begin to feel some hope about that, we must confront the daily realities of war and death in Ukraine. The brutal violence and abuse of power manifest there is deeply troubling.
The challenges that life brings us can feel relentless. Sometimes, the world’s harsh realities can overwhelm us and tempt us to forget the truth of who we are and what we stand for. Into the midst of these challenges, the season of Lent enters, inviting all to remember what is most essential and who we are called to be.
In times when we are troubled or driven by our deepest longings—for love, for peace, for attention, for recognition, for pleasure, for self-expression—we can also be most vulnerable to the tendency to satiate our hungers with a quick and easy fix. Our desperate desire to be rid of our hunger pangs for moments of rest and peace can lead us to seek satisfaction in short-term or even harmful solutions. This tendency can occur with physical hunger, but it is also true with emotional, psychological, and social hungers. Over time, we can easily fall into habits that orient our minds and actions toward easy solutions, rather than toward that which is good.
Jesus’s forty days in the desert serves as a scriptural entry point into the Lenten season. Presented with the opportunities for comfort, power, and an easy fix to his troubles, Jesus withstands temptation because he is rooted in his fundamental identity as the beloved child of God who is filled with the Holy Spirit and called to be the Prince of Peace and the embodiment of love. Regardless of one’s religious, spiritual, or philosophical background, this Christian narrative and the season of Lent offers an invitation to all of us to reflect on our own life temptations and fundamental sense of identity.
Over these next forty days, how might you make the time and space to reconnect to the deep roots of who you are and what you seek to stand for in your life? As you do so, how might you identify and move away from any habits of mind and living that have taken you off course?
Vincent de Paul’s advice to his followers included the encouragement to be faithful to the practice of daily mental prayer, spiritual reading, or quiet solitude. Vincent understood that without such time and space, we are more prone to seeking easy solutions to the challenges that face us rather than following the lead of Providence.
If making such time and space regularly seems impossible right now, perhaps begin with just thirty seconds of deep, restorative breathing, maybe even multiple times a day, and build from there. In doing so, we can grow more attuned to our emotions and anxious thoughts or reactions that can become patterns or unhealthy habits in our lives. And we learn the patience to sit momentarily still before our anxieties and impulsive desires, thereby becoming more intentional and authentic in our response.
As you remember most deeply who you are, what do you feel called to stand for in your life? What values do you seek to embody as you face life’s challenges and temptations?
What are the times, places or situations when you are most prone to pursue mental or life habits that draw you away from what you know to be best for you and for others?
What would help you in this season to be rooted again in what is most authentic to who you are?
Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP, Mission and Ministry
 See for example: Conference 25, “Love of God,” n.d., CCD, 11:33; and Conference 67, “Meditation,” n.d., CCD, 11:76.