22 Feb February Reflection – Michael McFarland SJ
Our Lenten Journey
In the article referenced in our February newsletter, Fr. Craig Morrison of the Pontifical Biblical Institute talks about Lent as a journey following Jesus into the desert to be transformed as he was. I know from personal experience what an apt and powerful image that is. Many years ago, I lived in New Mexico on the edge of the desert, which I came to cherish as a place of vast beauty, self-discovery and prayer.
Going into the desert, as Jesus did before beginning his ministry, is to step away from the busyness, distractions, comforts and security of our daily lives. Alone in that immense, harsh landscape, without the usual protections and supports with which we normally surround ourselves, we face our vulnerability and our dependence on others, especially on God. That opens up the space to ask the questions that truly matter: Who am I? Where am I going? What do I really want in life? How can I make my life matter? What does God want for me? What are the forces that threaten to frustrate my achieving my purpose? With its overwhelming emptiness and solitude, the desert is also seen as the place where spirits dwell, both good and evil; so it was appropriate that Jesus went there to wrestle with his own good and evil spirits and to learn to discern between the two.
Lent is our journey into the desert. It is a time for solitude and reflection, for giving up some of our comforts to focus on what matters the most. It begins traditionally on Ash Wednesday with a reminder of our vulnerability, that we are “dust” and in need of God’s merciful help. This past year, as Fr. Morrison reminds us, has been an extended Lent in many ways, with enforced solitude, the denial of many of our familiar pleasures and a heightened sense of our vulnerability and dependence on one another and on God. All of this raises fundamental questions about the meaning and purpose of our lives, what is truly important and worth sacrificing for and what we owe to one another and to God. As hard as it has been, it is also a great opportunity to reflect more deeply about what most matters, to recognize and confront both our inner demons and those at work in the world around us, to turn to God for healing and forgiveness and to draw closer to Christ Who is the source of our redemption. In surrendering to God in this way, we can find true freedom, peace and harmony.
To facilitate this reflection, we are offering an online Lenten retreat, led by Jesuits at the Gregorian University through the Institute for Ignatian Spirituality. It began with Mass on the First Sunday of Lent; but it is not too late to join. The Masses and talks are all being posted so you can catch up and follow it on your own schedule. See the link below.
However you choose to observe Lent, we hope and pray that it will be a time of grace that leads you to the new life and joy of Easter.
Michael C McFarland, SJ
President, Gregorian University Foundation