A reflection by Dr. Kathy Coffey-Guenther, senior advancement officer for alumni spirituality
As we begin this Lenten season, having received our ashes and having been counseled to turn our hearts and minds towards prayer, fasting and almsgiving over the next 40 days of the Lent, we begin our journey as one of Jesus’ companions — on the way to and through the bumpy road to Easter Sunday.
And, as we see from the scripture readings this week, we don’t necessarily enter this journey in the company of all rainbows and butterflies. Instead, this journey of Lent can be a challenging invitation even for the bravest among us.
We see that this first week of Lent brings us immediately face to face with severe climate and physical sufferings in the desert, temptation on the temple, a meeting with the devil, and strong commandments, prayers, teachings and counsel for right living. Everything feels intense and potentially threatening, and maybe even a bit scary. It seems like a lot to learn and do and protect, and quickly!
As we approach these scripture readings this week, perhaps we can think of times in the past couple of years of pandemic living that felt like we were living in the desert, fighting with the devil, and trying to stay anchored to hope and faith amidst the temptations of despair and distraction.
As we observe Jesus in the desert this week, during these pandemic times, we can see that his time in the desert was a time of struggle, stress and suffering as well. In observing Jesus going through his own difficult moments, we perhaps begin to discern that if we choose to walk at his side, we will likely encounter some challenges along the way, as well.
As we see and pray with Jesus as he suffers physical and mental hardships in the desert, we see the spirit of darkness prey upon human frailties and vulnerabilities, trying to tempt Jesus with physical care and comforts. We see the temptations of power, glory and vision above all others, even God, being laid before Jesus, and we observe Jesus as he sees through it all, rejecting every empty seduction being offered, and standing rooted in the truth he knows gives true life, nourishment and comfort, true wisdom and inner freedom, and true inner authority rooted in the One he loves and trusts, believes and follows.
We observe Jesus standing rooted in the spiritual anchors and truths in his life at this time, and we notice that we, too, are invited to return to these spiritual disciplines of our own Lenten journey.
We consider that the spiritual disciplines that help to keep our own temptations and seductions at bay are also the disciplines that help to keep us well anchored in the word, mind and heart of God’s love for us. These spiritual disciplines help to reveal our true and authentic selves, helping us to reject any fear, shame or guilt that threatens to displace our sacred birthright as being loved by God first.
These spiritual disciplines and anchors invite us to return to the commandments and the prayers, to the teachings and the sacraments, to the praying and the listening, to the fasting and the almsgiving. We return because these disciplines are our touchstones to living fully in our identity with Christ, to living fully in our identity as loved sinners, to living fully in our identity as contemporary disciples with Jesus, the savior of the world.
These spiritual disciplines keep us going, even when it is hard, even when we don’t like what we see, even when we don’t know the way, even through the unknown twists and turns of a global pandemic.
These spiritual disciplines are tried and true over time, languages, countries and beliefs. These spiritual disciplines shape us and root us and help us to find our way through the desert every time.
This Lent, I invite you to pick up your scripture, show up for your prayer time or quiet time, start a gratitude journal and write each night of the ways in which you are grateful for this day, go to Mass or prayer services, pray a daily Examen, give of your time and talent, feel the poverty within, and observe the poverties beyond. Keep your eye on Jesus. Let him teach you, heal you, guide you.
Every step of learning and living this Lent, demonstrates the invitation to redemptive living that we are offered again and again. As we follow Jesus to Jerusalem and his final cross, we see him showing mercy, forgiveness, understanding, healing, preaching, teaching, courage, and redemption to the saints and sinners alike.
Jesus keeps going.
Welcome to the first week of Lent. Maybe we did find some rainbows and butterflies after all.