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Our Sacred Stories ~ Our Desert Journey: Lent 2024

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, of 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 members of this community of faith affect us and direct our journey, personally and but also as a community?  We do this every year.  But this year may be especially significant.


This past October, 2023, our Church embarked on a Synod.  Representatives from our global church, lay and clerical, women and men, gathered for three weeks in Rome.  They engaged in a process of consultation regarding our faith journey as a global church in the midst our world today.  This was the first assembly of the Synod.  The second will take place in October of this year, 2024.  We are now in the middle of our journey.  Local churches, i.e. dioceses and their parishes around the world are asked to spend time in prayer, reflection and open conversation on how we can be a synodal church listening to one another and focused on the mission we have been given as a Christian community.


Perhaps, Lent 2024 is a call to each of us and all of us in our parish communities.  We are now being called to enter on a journey that recognizes the many voices, questions, issues and views that our faith must encounter in our time.  This is the desert experience we have today.  Like Jesus’s desert, we are challenged to see where we are called and what our mission is in the 21st century.  Like Jesus we are called to take up this mission with prayerful respect, openness and discernment together.


Pope Francis set this course for our Church as he began his journey as bishop of Rome and Pope, in 2013.  He issued what is called an Apostolic Exhortation titled: Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).  In doing so, he expressed the fundamental message of the Good News for all – the message of Jesus the Christ.


The Synod in which we are now involved calls us with his words:  “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.  The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. (EG 27)  During this Lent, our desert calls us to reflect and discern our ways of becoming true disciples and missionaries of the Good New in 2024.

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