Two contrasting garden scenes are presented in our readings for the 1st Sunday of lent. The first reading speaks of the beauty of the Garden of Eden, wonderful to look at and be in. The gospel speaks of the wilderness and its barrenness. The wilderness is a bleak place with no comfort and not a place to make a home in. The purpose of lent is for us to dip our toes into the wilderness and experience it for ourselves and in doing this we are to appreciate more the gifted nature of our lives and just how fortunate we are to have faith, be guided by that faith and to live in relative comfort.
The wilderness consists of exposing our lives to the discipline of prayer, to the rigours of penance, to the task of giving and the sacrifice of fasting. Taking part in these lent practice introduces the wilderness to our lives.
Prayer is a discipline because it is hard to do well. It is something we are to give our whole attention to. Not an easy thing to achieve, So many distractions. Sometimes prayer is just fitted in and only said in a rushed manner. The discipline of prayer in lent is to give some time to it. I pray to raise my mind and heart to God. I pray to deepen my relationship with God and so deepen my faith.
The rigours of penance: Is there anything that is put off more in life than confession! Leaving confession to another day leaves us prone to be picked off by apathy, cynicism, laziness and pride. Confession cleanses the soul. If you ever go to clean the dusty places of the room it is amazing how much dust is collected! Go to confession in lent clean out the dust and be at rights with God and each other.
The task of giving: Charity is both a prayer and an action. We pray for others, we help others. If we are not charitable people then lent is that reminder to be a giving person. Give of your time to God, give of your time to your neighbour. Charity is about being generous with our care for others, it is as much about kindness as it is about practical help.
The Sacrifice of fasting: For some lent is seen as a diet, to reduce food intake, so as to look good at Easter. I suppose spiritually this is the essence of a good lent. Shedding the sins, turning from evil and looking good before God!
The temptations of Jesus should encourage us during lent not to be half hearted or simply pay lip service to the demands of lent. If we are tempted to carry on as we are or if we are going through the motions of faith then lent is that urgent time to seek the Lord, to change and transform our hearts and come back to the Lord with great gusto!