As a child, I saw my grandmother take black tea and bread during Lent. She was a severe observer! The elders of the family said Lent was a time to give up comfort food. And so I remember going off things like chocolate, offering up my sweet tooth’s burning desire as a sacrifice to God.
Later, in my mid-teens, the idea was floated about doing something positive for Lent – like offering extra time to help my parents. Like others at that time, I was expected to attend morning Mass during the week. The Second Vatican Council had not yet taken place and evening Mass was unheard of.
Nowadays, the person of Jesus is offered to us at the beginning of Lent as he emerges from the wilderness and Satan’s tempting. “The kingdom of God is close at hand; repent and believe the good news”.
These were Jesus’ first words to the world – words overflowing with meaning and symbolism. They speak to us today, summing up the gospel and the whole Christian life. They summon all who hear them to arise from slumber, and listen.
JS Bach’s “Wachet Auf” (Sleepers Awake, the Voice is Calling) is one of his most mature and popular sacred Cantatas, and is capable of disposing us to be led by the Spirit that drove Jesus. Its varied movements help us pause and ponder Jesus being ‘tempted by Satan’, and ‘looked after by angels’.
The Cantata can evoke in us an inner desert where we can listen quietly to the voice of God. It can enthuse us to clear away the debris that has accumulated within, and endow us with sharper ears to hear anew Jesus’ call to ‘repent and believe’.
Lent presents us with an annual opportunity to take stock of ourselves and to see, with cataract-free eyes, Jesus Christ and the kingdom he came to establish in our world.
Fr. QQ 2/14/2018