Lent is a journey into the presence of Jesus. When we were children we thought of Lent as a time of penance. The big decision was, “What do I give up for Lent?” I don’t know about your penance; mine was always candy and movies. Lent then ended at noon on Holy Saturday. After a drought of 40 days, the 2:30 p.m. Holy Saturday movie with candy in one hand and popcorn in the other was the biggest feast day of the year for me.

Ending Lent as we do after Vatican II with the Triduum makes more sense spiritually. And we still fast on Good Friday. Fasting is good for the soul. It reminds us to clear away the clutter and the frivolous in our lives so that we don’t miss Jesus when he calls. How distracting our world is today.

Its reality is the ever-changing cell phone or iPad virtual reality. We communicate a lot, but not so often with the presence of the person we are talking to.

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Lent is a journey deeper and deeper into the presence of Jesus. In the Mass we celebrate the real presence of Jesus to us under the appearances of bread and wine which he chose to signify his body and blood which would be offered up for us in his crucifixion. In the other sacraments we celebrate the words and actions of Jesus which continue through his Spirit to bless and consecrate our lives. The vows of marriage, the anointing of the sick, the words of sorrow for sin and of forgiveness given through his Spirit in reconciliation, these are real and communicate Jesus’ spirit to ours.

Some of us, whose work schedule and family obligations allow it, attend daily Mass in Lent. (Because of the coronavirus pandemic, attending either daily or Sunday Mass is not an option during Lent this year but there are several outlets to either view or listen to Mass.) Others intensify their prayer time during Lent. These are excellent ways to keep a holy season focused on God who is always active in our lives, but to whom we do not always pay attention.

The readings of Lent are often about the encounters of key figures in the religious history of humankind with God. Abraham is called to found a new people consecrated to the one true God and through one of his descendants, Jesus, to bring God’s message of love and salvation to the whole world.

Moses is called to lead this people, then enslaved, back to Palestine, the holy land he gave them, and to teach them the laws of holiness God reveals to him on the mountaintop amid fire and thunder. His face is transfigured in brightness as will be Jesus’ on Mount Tabor. Elijah, on the other hand, is a prophet of God’s mercy to the people struggling in the desert who encounters God on a mountain in the gentle breeze of his Spirit’s passing. Elijah will be taken up into heaven as will Jesus after his resurrection. Matthew shows Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets in the transfiguration scene of a Lenten Sunday Gospel. Peter, James and John who are with Jesus begin to understand that they are in the presence of someone uniquely holy.

These encounters with God experienced by the key characters of the Old Testament and by Jesus’ disciples before and after his resurrection are lessons for us just as they were for Peter, James and John in the transfiguration scene. We are called to reflect on our encounters with God. In the silence of prayer God whispers to us also. This is real, and we can see from Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Jesus’ disciples the impact our lives can have on others if we act on the inspiration we receive from God in our prayer. Consider St. Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Sister Helen Prejean. We don’t have to be a saint to be used by God to continue Jesus’ work in God’s earthly kingdom.

But we have to discipline ourselves to pray so that we do not miss God’s inspirations. The Jesuits at Manresa teach the Ignatian method of meditation which asks us to place ourselves in the persons of the Gospel stories. How can we do today what God then asked of them?

Father Carville is a retired priest in the Diocese of Baton Rouge and writes on current topics for The Catholic Commentator. He can be reached at johnny carville@gmail.com.