Spring is a time of anticipation.
Winter has faded, and we all begin to look for signs of new life. The sun is closer to us and the earth is warmer. We can feel a sense of newness in the wind, a feeling that something wonderful is going on around us. Flowers begin to bloom; leaves start to bud; birds begin to sing; even the earth smells fresh and vital.
For those who garden, spring is also a time for tilling the ground and planting seeds. Looking for a good harvest, we watch closely the rhythms of sun and rain and keep an eye out for any signs of growth. We stand in awe of the mystery of God’s creation as we ponder the relationship between soil, sun, seeds, and water as they work together to produce new life.
The season of Lent is related to spring and all that it evokes in our minds. The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word lencten, which means to lengthen and refers specifically to the lengthening of days in the springtime. Like its counterpart in the natural world, Lent is the season when we anticipate and prepare for the new life to come. It is a time of tilling the soil of our hearts, planting the seeds of faith and love, and watching eagerly for the fruit of our efforts at Easter.
The forty days of Lent recall the time that Moses spent on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18), Elijah’s forty days in the desert (1 Kings 19:8), and, more specifically, Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2). As always, God invites us during this season of Lent to reflect on our lives, both individually and together as his people. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus were especially close to God during their forty days of reflection and prayer. We too can experience the Lord’s love more deeply as we draw close to him and reflect on all he has given us in Baptism and as we ask him to free us from our sins and weaknesses (see Vatican II, Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, 109).
Think of what it’s like to plant a garden. Would you till the soil, plant the seeds, and faithfully monitor the crops if you had no hope for any growth? Would you spend your time, money, and energy for nothing? Of course not. We plant because we expect some return, some fruit, for our labors. With this in mind, we can understand how deeply God our Father is committed to the Church. God loves his creation. He loves each and every person. His intention that his Church bear lasting fruit is unshakable and unending. Full of love, God looks for a fruitful return on all he has given us.
A Season of Hope. Lent is a season of hope. Our hope rests in the fact that Jesus has defeated sin. He has delivered us from the bondage of sin and he will continue to deliver us with ever-increasing power. How he longs to gather his children together in his embrace (Mark 10:16). We have hope because God is for us, and no one can stand against us (Romans 8:31-32). He is on our side, eager to give us everything we need to grow more and more into the image of his Son, Jesus.
God will never abandon us. He will show us the way to our eternal home, and as we travel along the way, he will form us into his body. In his mercy, he has not left us helpless, but has given us wonderful gifts to help us follow him—faith and grace, his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, sanctifying gifts, and spiritual gifts. How wonderful is our God, so wonderful that we can see our lives change to reflect his life more and more!
Every Lent, God, like a farmer, wants to plant seeds in the Church and watch them spring up. He eagerly waits to see new fruit, both in our own lives and in our neighborhoods and communities. He wants to see his people experience all the grace and power they received when they were baptized. He longs to see his Church shine as a light to the world as the people proclaim the gospel in words and in acts of love.
The Seed of Baptism. Let’s take a look at how a “transformation process” can help us understand how we can grow this Lent. The process begins with Baptism, when we are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5). In Baptism we were given, in seed form, everything necessary to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48); we were brought from the death of sin into Jesus’ resurrection. All of this is the work of God’s wonderful grace, freely given to all (Titus 3:5-6).
Wonderful as it is, Baptism is just the beginning of our life with God. As we mature, God wants us to experience the reality and hopeful assurance of all the blessings we have received. Just as parents want to see their children mature, so God wants to see us grow up in our faith and enter into our full inheritance as his sons and daughters.
Not only are we immature in faith, we are also weak and vulnerable to sin. Immersed in a sinful world, we have a disordered tendency (the “flesh”) to commit personal sins. Consequently, our experience of the grace of Baptism is often hindered by our immaturity and our personal sins.
The Holy Spirit wants to nourish us every day so that we can move toward spiritual maturity. Just as God told Ezekiel to eat the scroll of his word (Ezekiel 3:1-4), the Spirit wants to feed us with the word of God—God’s very thoughts. The Spirit also invites us to draw closer to our Father in prayer and to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Through the gracious work of the Spirit, we can be transformed into God’s likeness and come to love him more and more. The Holy Spirit will enable us to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12). We will want to love other people and take up Jesus’ call to share the gospel.
God knows that we all sin. In his mercy, he wants to reveal our sins and imperfections to us so that we can repent and be free (John 16:13). By choosing reconciliation, we choose to turn away from sin and toward God. Repentance leads to deeper conversion and greater joy as we see our life in the Spirit mature.
In this transformation process, God wants to shower his grace upon us. Grace is the power of God made active in our lives. As we turn to the Holy Spirit in prayer, at Mass, or as we read Scripture or other spiritual writings, God fills us with grace. We experience his love. We know peace, even happiness, as we grow in our desire to please the Lord who has been so good to us.
The Power of God’s Grace. Grace empowers us to repent and follow a more godly pattern. Through the power of God’s grace, we find ourselves increasingly uncomfortable with sin, even to the point of hating sin and its impact on our lives and the lives of our families. We find ourselves praying more, asking the Spirit for strength to resist temptation and turn away from sin. When we do see our sin, we are not discouraged; we are filled with hope, knowing that through repentance we can return to the Father who fills us with mercy and peace. We seek forgiveness and reconciliation, knowing that it is not achieved through our strength but by the indwelling Spirit. All of this is the power of God’s grace to transform us by his love.
During these lengthening days of spring, let us ask our Father for the grace to mature in our baptism and to turn away from sin. He who gives us the spring sunshine will also make the springtime of grace flow more freely. We need only ask, be open, and receive his grace.
Hope is the expectation that we can be transformed into the pattern of Christ. Our minds can be renewed as God our Father forms us according to his plan, not according to the ways of the world (Romans 12:2). Lent is a time when we can expect to see God change the Church through his transforming grace. As we choose to accept his grace, it will become a part of us, transforming us through and through.
The natural season of spring brings change every year. Flowers begin to bloom, the earth comes back to life, the air becomes warm and inviting. Similarly, the spiritual season of Lent is a time to look for significant change. Just as God pours out a new spring of life in the natural realm, he is likewise eager to pour out a new spring of life in our hearts to renew and refresh his Church. This Lent, as we look to God, let us reflect especially on our baptism, and on the gift of repentance, with the assurance that God will produce abundant fruit in our lives and in our Church.