Today Catholic Christians celebrate the First Sunday of Lent.
Lent is a liturgical season that, for Catholic Christians, begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at the beginning of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.
Like all liturgical seasons, Lent is a season of joy. It is especially joyful because it is designed to get us ready for the greatest feast in the Church – Easter.
The two primary purposes of Lent are: (1) to prepare catechumens (non-baptized persons) for the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil; and (2) to prepare baptized persons to renew their baptism promises at Easter.
Traditionally, Catholic Christians use Lent as a time to strengthen their spiritual lives. In addition to doing required things, such as abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent, they often “shake up” their spiritual lives. Some do this by addition, and some do it by subtraction.
Those who choose to shake up their spiritual lives by addition add something to their spiritual lives that they do not ordinarily do. For example, perhaps they go to daily Mass, take part in a Lenten communal Reconciliation Service in their parish, read their Bible more frequently, give alms for worthy charities, or say certain prayers more frequently.
Others choose to subtract something they treasure in their lives to show that the spirit is more powerful than the flesh. For example, some people give up candy, television, or desserts during Lent.
It doesn’t matter whether you shake up your spiritual lives through addition or through subtraction. What is important that whatever spiritual exercise you do, do with prudence and simplicity. This is important advice, because some people get the mistaken notion that Lent is their only chance to strengthen their spiritual lives. As a consequence of such thinking, they go way overboard, trying to become a high-powered mystic in six weeks. What they fail to remember is that they may make changes in their lives the week after Lent just as much as they can in a week during Lent. We should be striving to better our spiritual lives every day, not just during Lent. So, for example, perhaps we could work on just one bad habit – gossip, overeating, or procrastination.
In today’s Gospel reading from St. Mark (1: 12-15), we hear how Jesus fought against temptation. He ended his forty days in the desert by saying, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1: 15). When we fail to “repent and believe in the Gospel,” we can get into much trouble. That is what happened to the unfortunate woman in the following story.
When she was in her early forties, Amy had a job as an office manager. When her son got into legal trouble, she began embezzling money from her employer. She found it was easy. Soon, she found that she liked helping people who needed financial help to pay rent or utilities. She enjoyed the role of savior.
Although Amy knew that what she was doing was wrong, she rationalized her behavior. She knew, for example, that the people for whom she worked were having a very fine lifestyle, and that they really didn’t need all this money.
As time went on, and she had taken more and more money, she began to believe that she was incredibly smart. But, right before she got caught embezzling company money, she felt she felt sick inside. She felt as though she was dying from the inside out because she believed herself to be a terrible person.
The judge sentenced Amy to six years in prison. After Amy finished two years in prison and two years probation, she is now building a new life with her family.
From her experience, Amy learned much. Her painful experience was a journey with God. It allowed her to find faith and courage and a new direction. Today, Amy gives inspirational speeches, sharing what she has learned in her frightening but important life journey.
From Amy’s story and from Jesus’ admonition to “repent, and believe in the Gospel,” we can learn many things. Here are just three.
First, all of us experience temptations in life. Temptations are not sins. Only when we deliberately give into temptations, and violate our consciences, can we talk about sin.
Second, problems that may start out small can escalate into major difficulties. Many people have similar stories to Amy. They may be treasurer of their club, for example, and they find themselves short of cash. So, they “borrow” a little money with the idea they’ll pay it back. But, one thing after another comes up, and they can’t pay it back. In fact, they need to “borrow” more. Soon, they become overwhelmed and find themselves committed to stealing more and more, realizing they no longer can fool themselves into thinking they are “borrowing” money.
And third, fighting temptation is a lifelong endeavor. When I was younger, I had the idea that there must be an age that a person reaches where temptations no longer apply. Many wise persons have informed me, however, that there is no such age. The good news is that God’s grace is always available to each and every one of us, and the grace of God is sufficient to fight any temptation.
And that is the good news I have for you on this First Sunday of Lent, 2018.
Story source: Quentin Fottrell (Market Watch Editor). “Amy Wilson: An office manager
who embezzled $350,000.” MarketWatch, July 29, 2014.