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Lent, Part 1: Springtime in the Spiritual Garden


“Lent” is an Old English word for springtime. It is an appropriate word because as the season of spring prepares the earth to break forth into new life the season of Lent is a time to prepare to break forth, spiritually, into new life. As a gardener I love this image. Removing rocks from the soil, pulling out weeds, nurturing the soil with supplements, planting something new — these all remind us that we are not perfect and are always in need of conversion, of and renewing again and again our commitment to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. This is the purpose of the season of Lent.
 
Historically, Lent was a 40-day retreat for those adults who were choosing to become committed disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. In the early church, those who wanted to become members—the catechumens—gathered for a year or two with those who were already committed to Jesus Christ. The catechumens learned the stories, participated in the Liturgy of the Word, and learned the way of being Christian. At the Easter Vigil they would be formally and completely initiated into the community. In preparation for this reception at the Easter Vigil, catechumens would enter into a more intense 40-day time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — Lent. On the Thursday before Easter, the community would gather with the bishop in the place of worship. As they gathered and prayed, the catechumens and a deacon would go to a place of living water (a lake or river) where they would enter the water. The deacon would submerge each catechumen’s head in the water and as he assisted the person up, would ask, “Do you believe in God the Father?” He would repeat this submerging twice more asking, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ his only Son? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” The catechumens would then be wrapped in white garments and brought into the waiting assembly (baptism). Here the bishop as the leader of the community would generously pour blessed oil over the head of the newly baptized adult, (origin of the sacrament of confirmation), confirming in public what had been ritualized at the water. The bishop would then continue with the liturgy. At Communion the newly baptized and confirmed persons would receive the Eucharist for the first time, completing the sacraments of initiation.
 
Baptism and the sacraments of initiation for adults are best celebrated at the Easter Vigil where the whole story of salvation is told (seven readings from Hebrew and Christian Scriptures) and the already baptized Christians renew their baptismal promises.
 
Baptism of infants is best celebrated at Sunday Mass where the community gathers.
 
For your reflection:
1. What are the rocks and/or weeds that you need to remove from your life this Lent? How will you do this?
2. Rather than give up something this Lent, secretly do something for someone in need.
3. Find out who is receiving the sacraments of initiation in your parish this Easter and pray for them by name; maybe send them cards telling them this.
 
Sister Honora is the Assistant Director at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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