The care with which the Church has assembled the prayers, the readings, the rituals of Lent and Holy Week remind me that Lent really is a school, a school of conversion and grace. The first day of Lenten school is Ash Wednesday. It is the day when more pupils show up at this school than almost any other day of the year. Why? To receive ashes traced in the form of a cross on one’s forehead as a reminder of our sinfulness and mortality. “Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”
This is also the day when catechumens begin their final lap to Easter and Baptism. I find it spiritually helpful to see Lent through the eyes of catechumens who are experiencing this penitential journey for the first time as a school of conversion and grace.
The Lenten school term runs for 40 days and challenges us to pray, fast and give alms throughout. This penitential journey is in two halves. The first half of Lent uses readings from the Synoptic Gospels and Old Testament selections that echo the Gospel themes. The constant theme of the first half of Lent is a call to a life of Gospel conversion. The stress is on the need for turning away from sin and living the Gospel. Over and over again we are called to receive a heart renewed, to live a life of unselfish love of God and others, of forgiving and loving one’s enemies. The virtuous life is lifted up before us as a reminder by contrast that we have fallen often and have a long way to go to reach perfection. Actually, the broken resolutions, the failure to live a moral life at all times, our sinfulness during Lent helps us to see that we need God and his grace; that we cannot live a good life of discipleship without God’s grace and mercy.
The second half of Lent begins on the Monday of week four when the Gospel texts are taken from John and the thrust is away from living the moral and ethical life to an encounter with the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ. Christ is revealed as the one who is the God/Man, who reconciles and heals the wounds of sin and death, and gives life to all who believe in him.
In the school of Lent we learn that we need help and that Jesus is the Savior who loves nothing more than to bring us to salvation. We are sinners; Jesus is the Teacher who takes us by the hand and brings us to the beauty of Easter and the risen life.
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Copyright 2018 Fr. Willy Raymond, C.S.C.