We just celebrated the first Sunday of Lent, a major step in our Lenten journey, that frames the entire season with The Lord’s Forty Days in the Desert. Because this first Sunday of the season is so important for us on our Faith journey, it is important to continue to reflect on it for some days before we move to the Transfiguration in the second Sunday. To that end, I have asked Fr. Tim Peters of Mission San Juan Capistrano to write this following reflection on the First Sunday of Lent, and how St. Luke is his Gospel teaches us this year, and how that leads us to the “New Evangelization” in this “Year of Faith”. Thank you, Fr. Tim!!!
The First Sunday of Lent and the New Evangelization
By Fr. Tim Peters
Parochial Vicar, Mission Basilica, San Juan Capistrano
Why did Jesus spend 40 days in the desert? The number 40 comes up often in the scriptures. It rained for forty days and nights during the days of Noah as God judged the world and prepared a new creation (Gen 7:17). Moses twice spent forty days on Mount Sinai fasting and praying, preparing to receiving God’s holy Law (Ex 24:18; 34:28). Years later the prophet Elijah strengthen by an angel’s meal walked back to the same mountain on a 40 day journey (1 Kings 19:18). The Israelites spent forty years wandering in the desert (Ex 16:36: Num 14:34) and Christ endured a day fasting and praying for each year that Israel spent wondering. The number 40 tends to signify, among other things, purification and preparation.
In Lent the Church invites every Christian to take a 40 day journey together with Jesus.
The Church is not just inviting us to reflect on what it must have been like for Jesus to be in the desert, instead it invites us to personally accompany Christ on His desert journey. As Jesus battled against temptation and sin so we must recognize that every Christian who walks with Christ on this pilgrim journey of faith will often find themselves in the midst of a veritable spiritual battle. Each one of us must confront our own failures and discover how Christ can help us to grow and overcome them. All of us have failed God in some way dealing with one’s own personal failures can be a humbling experience. However, Christ does not want us to lose hope; with God’s help we can change what once seemed impossible. As God is patient with us, we must also be patient with ourselves and our neighbors.
Our journey of faith often leads us to the crossroads of what often appears like impossible circumstances. The Israelites rebelled because they could not understand the logic of moving forward into a desert with no water or bread. They worshiped the golden calf because the God of their fathers seemed to have abandoned them at the foot of Sinai. When God tested their faith they tried to turn the tables and to put God to the test. However, Jesus gives us the perfect example of how one can transform a history of failure. This is exactly what the Church intends to for the season of Lent. Just as Christ changed the course of salvation history so the Church like a mother and teacher invites each soul to allow divine grace to transform our own personal history. No case is too difficult, with God nothing is impossible. Jesus’ victory over sin and temptation precedes his ministry and the announcement of the “Good News” of the Kingdom. In the same way our Lenten practices should shape us spiritually so that we can more effectively and patiently announce the same Gospel to every new generation. Like Christ who did not hunger for the bread of this world, so we must develop a hunger for the sacred mission which Christ has entrusted to His Church. The question is simple, “Do you really have a hunger for the things that are important to God and above all a hunger to share the faith with others?” Turn to the Lord in pray and ask God to develop this hunger in your own life. Ask God for more opportunities to share the faith with others to share the faith and watch what happens!
Lent should be a life changing experience for every Catholic and we should incorporate the New Evangelization into our own Lenten practices. Simply put, we must seek to share the faith with those who do not know Christ and invite the fallen away to return to the sacraments. This type of evangelization requires real preparation and sacrifice because others will likely challenge or reject our invitation. We must be prepared to deal with rejection always remembering that we serve a crucified and resurrected Savior who was misunderstood by his own contemporaries and is still misunderstood by many in our modern world. However, our initial invitation will open the door for further conversations about the faith. Once we start a conversation the Holy Spirit can begin to work and then real conversion becomes a possibility.
This Lent the Church is asking Catholics to take a chance and even go out of their way to evangelize what might seem like “impossible people.” Go to the atheist, the anti-catholic, the most non-spiritual, the most cynical, even the most embittered fallen away Catholic and invite them to discover God’s love. Surprise them by asking them to come back to the Church. Invite them to Mass or the sacrament of reconciliation. Tell them that God has not abandoned them or His Church and that many have misconceptions about the faith which true conversion will bring to light. Real evangelization in our modern world means that we need to sit down with people and patiently listen to their questions and concerns. It also means that we must be prepared to lovingly defend the truths of the faith.
Invite them to discovery the beauty of the faith that they have refused to see. It is our own courage to invite them that might be the first spark which opens their eyes and enables them to begin to change their own perspective about the faith. May God bless us with zeal during these 40 days and through our own willingness to participate in the New Evangelization may life changing transformation take place in our local parishes.