Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On this first Sunday in Lent, the Church presents us with the Gospel story of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, where he was tempted by the devil. This time of fasting and prayer immediately preceded His public ministry and teaching, and served as Jesus’ immediate preparation to carry out His saving mission. We know, of course, that the miracles and teaching of Jesus reach their climax on the Cross on Good Friday. This penitential liturgical season mirrors our Lord’s forty days in the desert, and just as those days prepared Him for the Cross, so these days prepare us to enter more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of the Cross, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As I read this Gospel and look at the season ahead of us, a word often used by Pope Francis in his teaching echoes in my mind. The Holy Father often speaks of “accompaniment,” encouraging us to walk with those who suffer, with those who are abandoned, with those who most often feel rejected. This is the task of every Catholic and of the whole Church because it is the model given to us by Jesus Christ. In the temptations Jesus experienced in the desert, we see how He accompanies us: we who are sinners, prone to temptation, are not left alone to deal with them without grace. Rather, the Divine Son of God enters totally into our human condition; He knows what it is to be tempted, to feel hunger, to suffer bodily pains. This is why we can have hope, why we can take courage in the face of sufferings – Jesus accompanies us in the midst of temptation and pain. His triumph over the temptations of the evil one ought to give us heart in those times when we ourselves are struggling.
From the word “accompaniment,” I find myself considering another, related word that I would like to propose as a thematic word for our Lenten journey. The word “consequence,” from the Latin consequentia, for “following after,” gives us an open-ended perspective. What is the consequence of Jesus’ forty days in the desert? What consequences follow from our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during the season of Lent? What is the consequence of professing faith in Jesus Christ? Sometimes, we think of consequences as negative outcomes or results. In some cases, “consequences” has become a “gentler” way to say “punishments.” If we break down the etymology just a bit more, though, we find a far more positive (or at least neutral) meaning. The prefix “con-” means “with.” Perhaps we can understand the word to mean following with, rather than following after. A consequence, then, is a form of accompaniment. The consequence of the Incarnation, that God became man, is a restoration of the union that humanity had with God in the beginning in the Garden of Eden. The consequence of our Lord’s forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert is His facing and overcoming temptation in his humanity, giving hope to our humanity. The consequence of the Paschal Mystery is the free offer of salvation to all of humanity, the opening of the gates of Heaven so that we may be with God for all eternity.
The forty days of Lent invite us to understand the beautiful and life-giving consequences of God’s love toward us, to see the consequences of our sins which separate us from God’s love, and to consider what it means to accompany Jesus to Calvary. These days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are meant also to show us that the consequence of Jesus’ saving mission is grace poured out in abundance for us, never imposed, but freely offered out of love. Finally, our observance of this season can teach us that there are consequences to following Jesus as disciples. But those consequences are not separate from Jesus, but rather, in proper grammar, follow with His presence, grace, love, and mercy. May the consequence of this Lent be an increase of our cooperation with the grace of God, a deepening of our faith, growth in virtue, and resolve in living holiness of life.