The First Sunday of Lent is celebrated this week. You know, the whole Lenten season has undergone a dramatic shift in emphasis over the past 35 years. Have you noticed?
Back when I was a kid B and I have to admit in the minds of a lot of “cradle Catholics” still today B Lent was a sad, somber time. The Church deliberately took on an exaggerated penitential tone: we didn’t just “give up” things in a symbolic way, in many respects Catholics went to great lengths to experience pain, and so to share in a mystical way in the sufferings of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
That can be a good thing. An old native American saying implies that you can never really appreciate another person=s experience until you’ve “walked a mile in his moccasins.” The more we appreciate what Jesus went through in giving Himself for us, the more likely we’ll come close to knowing Him authentically.
But since the early 1970’s, another emphasis has come to the fore. In fact, it has rightly become predominant. In fidelity to the Church’s command to rediscover the significance of full Christian Initiation, we have “rediscovered” Lent as a time for preparation for the Easter Sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. If we go completely through Lent without even a single thought to penance and mortification, but instead are tightly caught up in joining catechumens in the last stages of their journey to the waters of baptism B well, then, we’ve kept a good Lent. Maybe even the best ever!
How do we keep Lent well as a time of sacramental preparation? Well, the first way is to notice our hunger for the Lord’s grace in the sacraments. Come to the Cathedral on the afternoon of the First Sunday of Lent and get a glimpse of how the hundreds and hundreds of people who desire to join our Catholic Church want to be bathed in its cleansing waters, want to be strengthened in His Spirit, want to be fed at the table of the Lord. If you notice this eagerness in others, it’s practically a sure bet that you’ll notice the same stirrings of anticipation, of hunger, of desire, deep within yourself!