Lent is a journey into the desert. Why do we go to the desert? We need the silence, less distractions, to hear the voice of God within. We need to concentrate on God. That’s difficult in our loud lives of constant motion. So, during Lent we have different rituals to remind us that we are on a 40-day journey. We begin with Ash Wed, being marked with our humanity and the humility of knowing we just another part of this world. But that we are marked for God. We fast and abstain from meat on Fridays. We give something up. We are introduced to the RCIA catechumens who would like to enter the church. We enter church and there is purple everywhere and usually a desert theme. All the scriptures are leading to the passion. There is the triduum Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. There are many rituals, signs, and significant happenings during the Lenten season. Teens and those who do not understand the depth of these rituals and routines see these as mandatory obligations; and needless control.
There is a big debate in our culture today about spirituality vs. religion. Spirituality is considered our personal relationship with God. Our culture seems to think that religion is oppressive and an institution’s rules about how we should relate to God. This is not true! Religion points to God, the point of religion is to bring people into a closer relationship with God but through community. Many people believe that they can find God on their own alone in their own way. They can be people of good will and don’t need religion. What these people don’t understand is that the triune God that we believe in God the creator, Jesus the son and redeemer, and the Holy Spirit that moves between them and to us is community. God is a living community. They live in the community of the Holy Trinity. We are made in the image of God and our purpose I believe, and the Catholic Church believes, is to be in right relationship with self, God, others, and creation. If we do not live in community then we are denying the very essence of God. Because we are made to live in community the Church has these rituals to help us reflect on the journey of Lent. The fasting empties us so that we can feel the hunger we should have for God. The ashes mark us because God has called us it also brings us together as a community of believers. The RCIA catechumens stand before the church so we can make them part of the community. Palm Sunday we witness the passion. Holy Thursday we wash each other’s feet and share the last supper. Good Friday we feel the pain and sorrow of the passion. Easter Vigil is filled with rituals from the new Easter Candle to the Baptisms, Confirmations, and first communions. Gathered in community we are part of the resurrection.
We need to walk the journey at times alone to listen but never completely because God is always with us. Our church community supports and holds us up when we have fallen. We are together in this journey. If we can be together in it we are working towards the purpose of God in right relationship.