The Big Game Has Begun

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home

February 18, 2024 – First Sunday of Lent, Mark 1:12-15

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We begin the holy season of Lent by recalling the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert before he began his public life. Perhaps this chapter of his life was done in memory of the forty years the Jews wandered in another desert as they made their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. Today, this desert time of solitude in his life is recalled when we spend the forty days of Lent focusing on praying more, some fasting from food on occasion and in doing additional good works. It’s a time when we pay more attention to being closer to Jesus.

In times past most Catholics followed a fixed set of religious practices during Lent. I recall “giving up candy for Lent.” If I was given or acquired any candy during that time, I would store it on a container that was in my mom’s kitchen, and eat most of it the minute Lent ended. Back then this was at noon on Holy Saturday. Looking back, this was a rather stupid practice of mine.

My wife’s dad had the custom of not drinking alcohol during Lent. That Lenten practice was much more beneficial than my own candyless one. Adults often fasted from food and abstained from meat on Fridays during Lent. Catholic calendars showed fish symbols on days for “no meat.”

Today, what religious people do during Lent varies from person to person. That can make the Lenten season spiritually more effective if this is done in a spirit of greater awareness and generosity. It might involve traditional practices, but also include some freely chosen.

There is genuine wisdom in creating times where special attention is given to one’s faith practices. The Church these days often recommends that during Lent we devote additional time for prayer and giving more attention to works of charity.

Today’s gospel concludes his time in the desert with Jesus announcing that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Using an image from the world of sports, it’s like him saying that “the big game has begun.”

This implies that we are entering a new time, a time directly involving God, when new and wonderful things are now possible. Part of life is preparation and part is fulfilment. Does believing this in any way change the way you think or act in Lent and thereafter? It could and it should. It’s all up to you.

  David M. Thomas, PhD

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