It’s a mark on the forehead that means so much. A gym full of children listen to the readings, sing hymns and receive their ashes. They are a bit silly, asking each other about what the cross looks like on their forehead. Some are giggling as it is a new experience for them. This is part of their formation as Christians. With each Lenten experience, they integrate the meaning of the Passion and they remember the scripture passages that they hear during this season. These sacramental moments of grace are integral to our growth in understanding the mystery of the incarnation and embracing our identity as children of God. The death and resurrection of Jesus are imprinted in our hearts as believers. Lent is the time that we make room in our hearts to let this happen. “Create in us a clean heart, O God.”
The seasons pass and the cycles of the liturgical years carry us forward. Our lives are animated by the scriptural narratives and especially by the Passion of Christ. As I get older, the memories of the seasons play like movies in my mind. How many seasons of Lent have I known? I can remember walking across the schoolyard to the church every day during Lent. We went to mass and then ate our lunches in the church basement. I remember high school starvathons, fundraisers and stations of the cross. These kinds of memories reveal a path of experience that brings us to touch the mystery of what we believe. Lent is a time to go much deeper in our relationship with God, with ourselves and with others. We are called into the desert with Jesus to be more mindful of the gift of life and to make our way back to God. “Have mercy, O Lord, for we have sinned.” The merciful and gracious God, who is our being, waits to be discovered anew.
How will you journey through Lent this year? Of course, fasting, almsgiving and prayer are the concrete ways that we embark on this sojourn in the desert. Personally, I hope to be creative in ways to fulfill these pillars of my faith and to be much more deliberate in my observance of the season. Overwhelmed with so many societal concerns, war and climate change being examples, Lent is a time that we can act on these concerns. Our lives are cluttered with possessions, technology and busyness. We are not used to the desert existence. Giving up chocolate or another visible sacrifice may seem like we are honouring the Lenten season, but perhaps this is only scratching the surface. The desert calls us to something much deeper.
The beautiful language of the psalms illustrate the season in a simple and profound way.
“O that today you would listen to the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.”
Hopefully, in this Lenten season, I will clear out the clutter in my heart and listen for God’s voice.
Jan Bentham is a retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.