- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories: Our Journey Through Lent
Several years ago a couple of my friends embarked on the pilgrimage walk from southern France, over the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela on the west coast of Spain. They were on a 30-day journey over almost 800 kms of hills and valleys. They encountered many people, fellow pilgrims as well as local folk, and passed through some beautiful countryside and striking scenery. Not surprisingly, they had many experiences and faced some challenges.
Each day they created a blog that they shared with us back here at home. As they did so it became apparent that the Camino was a journey of discovery. It also became clear that the experience was leaving an impact on them. As they began their pilgrimage, the blog said much about the countryside through which they were passing. After about a week, the blog began a gradual turn in its focus. The countryside was still there. But one began to sense how they felt about what they were doing and how they were affected by the trek.
When I was young, Lent was about what I was going to give up – candy, movies. Later it took on something like the New Years resolution – what can I do to become better at something. Certainly, that is an improvement. But perhaps there is more.
Our observance of Lent has its origins in the early Christian church and is associated with the sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. These sacraments of welcome generally would take place at Easter. From the earliest of times, Christians developed a process for welcoming new member into the community. When the person was ready to ask for baptism at Easter, there was a final short, more intense period of prayer, fasting and good works. This was Lent – a time of transformation, a conversion.
A scriptural image of this period of intense prayer and fasting and discovery of mission is found in the Gospels. We see it in the desert experience of Jesus. Mark’s version of this is brief (1:12-15). After his baptism, Jesus ventured into the desert. There, he searched for where the Spirit was leading him. He struggled with temptations. In that desert, Jesus found his call as well as his mission. Filled with the Spirit, he came out of the desert proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.
Lent every year is our desert experience, a time to rediscover our connection with our loving parent God. In the desert of Lent we step back and look at where we are in our journey, our personal Camino. We have been baptized into Christ. What does this really mean for us? How does being a member of this community of Christians affect who we are and how we see others?
In a recent blog, Dr. Michael Higgins quoted an author, Brian Doyle. Just before he died, in 2017, Doyle reflected on his life, especially his core relationships and his Catholic faith in “A Prayer for You and Yours”. Of that faith he says: “I saw for the first time in my life that there were two Catholic Churches, one a noun and the other a verb, one a corporation and the other a wild idea held in the hearts of millions of people who are utterly uninterested in authority and power and rules and regulations, and very interested indeed in finding ways to walk through the bruises of life with grace and humility.” (Quoted by Michael Higgins, President of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC. “Pontifex Minimus Blog: Presidential Reflections on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition”, 12 Feb 2021)