By Bishop John M. Quinn, Diocese of Winona-Rochester
Living on Main Street in Winona, next to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and across from Winona State University, I see many people taking different paths every day. Some are going to class or the library, seeking the path of knowledge; others are seeking fitness and are on the path to the gym for exercise or out for a walk with no particular destination. Some stop at the Cathedral for Mass or to pray. While all of us walk different paths, Lent is the time for Christians to ask if we are on a path leading to union with God, or are we living in a conflicted way, that takes us away from God and from loving our neighbor? A priest friend states it very well when he asks, is the road or path we are on one of holiness and generosity? I am sure that if we answer truthfully, we need the 40 days of Lent, because they are a time of grace and conversion. Lent is an opportunity to get back on the right path and to seek greater intimacy and friendship with God.
In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent, Mark 1:12-15, we read that Jesus Christ went into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Deserts are hostile places with no or little water, unusual creatures and extreme temperatures of cold at night and high temperatures during the day. After 40 days of being alone in prayer with His Father, with little to eat and drink, the devil sees if he can get Jesus to turn stones to bread, to worship the devil in exchange for earthly kingdoms and to jump off the temple to see if His Father will save Him. Jesus Christ tells the devil to be gone and would not give into the temptations. Most of us struggle to overcome giving into impulses and seeking immediate satisfaction, and have given into temptation. We need these 40 days to go with Jesus Christ into a spiritual desert and to enter a period of deeper prayer and conversion.
The pandemic has brought about many changes in our daily routines. Over the past nine months, in order to protect each other from the transmission of COVID-19, many protocols and safety measures were adopted in our churches. While fully implementing all safety measures, Catholic churches remain open for worship, and Catholics will begin Lent by receiving blessed ashes on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021. Jesus Christ is the path that leads to salvation, because Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Like all disciples of Jesus Christ, it is easy to get on a different path, on one that leads to anxiety, desiring more possessions, jealousy, using people, pornography, gambling, drinking and quarreling. Lent is God’s gift to His people and is a time of grace to get back on the path that leads to salvation.
Lent is a time for prayer, fasting and almsgiving so we can “repent and believe in the Gospel” and accept with hope that “we are dust and to dust we will return.” When the blessed ashes are distributed on Ash Wednesday, one of those two phrases will be said. Ashes will be imposed and the journey of Lent will have begun. This journey leads to Easter, to the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has conquered sin and death forever. May this Season of Lent be a blessed time of prayer and deepening conversion, as we strive to ever more faithfully travel the path that leads to Jesus Christ and eternal life.