ONCE again we’ve entered the season of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday which, this year, coincided with Valentine’s Day.
Lent calls us to reconcile ourselves with God. Jesus’ message in this Sunday’s gospel (Mark 1:12-15) is simple yet profound, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.”
Through the ages we hear God patiently calling. “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning. End your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Joel 2:12-13).
The call is for a sincere and active renewal of our Baptismal promises – to reject Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises, and to believe in One God in the Three Persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Baptism, prefigured by Noah and his family being saved from the waters of the Great Flood (First Reading; Genesis 9:8-15), was alluded by the Second Reading (1 Peter 3:18-22).
Indeed, Baptism is a sacred encounter with the Lord. Yet, like Jesus and every other baptized person, the experience does not freeze us in time. Just as Jesus, after Baptism, was driven by the Spirit to the desert and was tempted by the devil for forty days, so too, after our Baptism, did we face a fallen world -- full of trials and tests, temptations and difficulties.
The good news, however, is that Jesus has emerged victorious. And if he did, we shall likewise do, by his grace. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
This Lent challenges us to declare war with sin. We must fight evil at all cost, but if we fall, as everyone does, we can count on Jesus to forgive us of the sins we are truly sorry of. St. John, putting it nicely, said, “I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world” (1John 2:1-2).
Taking the path to holiness is not easy. In fact, relying only on our own strength will never make us succeed. God alone is holy, and he alone can help us move us to higher and higher levels of holiness. Thus, we must resolve to “enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it; and for the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are a few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Jesus alone is the gate of our salvation. This Lent, let us not then search for any other way. Jesus is the only way.