This Sunday, we begin a spiritual journey towards the feast of Easter. The liturgy offered to us is based on the following readings: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15.
For many Christians, Lent is a reminder of that beautiful and very intense time when as catechumens they prepared themselves for their baptism at the Easter Vigil. For those who were baptized as infants, busy sucking their thumbs; the period of Lent offers them a golden chance of renewing their baptismal vows at Easter, this time as a real and effective event of personal resolutions and not mere ritual symbols that we see in our family albums. It is true that our baptism merits much more than the cursory attention most of us give it. It is the most important event in our lives, and on Easter, every Christian, whether baptized as an infant or adult, must try to find a way of celebrating it in a personal way.
From the liturgical point of view, the Church invites us to listen to the initial proclamation of the good news of salvation, as if it were for the first time in our life, and intended for you in a particular way. That way, we may take the beginning of our Lenten journey as a renewed resolution to follow Christ more seriously. Jesus is addressing these words to us: “This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
The doctrinal message of repentance as expressed above is a call for a deeper meditation. We must remember that this momentous announcement of salvation was preceded by Jesus´ forty-days fast in the desert! This kind of retreat by Jesus was not followed by a congratulatory feast or a blast of trumpets, but by a call to man to repent and change his or her heart. The Gospel warns us that this should not be taken as some divine miscalculation or irrelevant coincidence! It was the Spirit of God who “drove him out into the desert”. Not for some kind of calm and idyllic retreat, but for a long battle against the fierce assault of the tempter, Satan. When Jesus came out of this battle, he had reasons to warn man: It takes God to win that kind of struggle, and men who listen to the divine warning; and repent! Otherwise, we can hardly win when the devil begins such fierce assaults and tricks on us.
Repent, repent…., some grown up Christians might not have the best memories of the Lenten period in their families when they were young and all they heard from their parents, teachers and preachers was repent, repent, repent…! Perhaps their educators were forgetting to add on like Jesus did: ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’ This remarkable and significant proclamation of Jesus is the good news and it makes a big difference: Lent is not a boring time, nor does it make the Christian life a grim, a joyless struggle against temptations and the desires of the flesh. It is rather a call to a Christ like life. A much more marvellous existence, which is filled with meaning and with the highest dignity much more than what we could expect.
This meaningful life, God has promised to man in a way that is irrevocable: God does not change his mind; he does not go back on his word, that is why he went ahead and gave us his Son who has died for all of us, and risen again so that we can follow him not in imagination, but in fact and as a style of life. The kingdom of heaven, inaugurated on earth by Jesus and central to his preaching, offers a rich subject often neglected or treated superficially in our Christian formation and up bringing, yet it is so central to our Christianity if not to our humanity.
The bottom line conveyed to us by this Lenten entrance is a call to renew our baptismal promises during this period in a way that will demand some concrete steps into action and not hot air. It is a period which requires us to think differently; about our permanent invitation to stand up and be counted among Jesus´ followers. And if we do not want this to remain as a nice idea; this time we have to look for what needs to be done and work on it, before the period ends and we are in the middle of Easter shopping and celebrations.