The Season of Lent is a season of testing. The Lord tests us, in order to make us stronger in our faith, and draw us closer to Him. The number forty (40) in Scripture has always been symbolic of testing or trial. Think of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, or Our Lord’s forty days in the desert of Judea. So this forty day Lenten season is a time for testing for us – each year.
And it’s a time of testing because we are tasked to call to mind our sins and repent, to call of God for His mercy, to recognize in a profound way that God is God and we are not. Much as we like to have control over our lives, there comes a point in which we must surrender to God and His loving will for our lives.
So far, this Lent, we have been called by the Gospel readings to acknowledge our sinfulness and repent, to turn back to the Lord before it’s too late. This is especially so if you’ve followed the daily Mass readings. And so we may weary of this message, or we may despair of God’s tender mercy.
We read in our Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, how we are still loved by God, even in our sinfulness. That does not mean that God ignores our sins, nor does He condone our sinful actions or lifestyles. But He loves us so much that He does not want us to wallow in our sins. So He sent His only Son to die for our sins, and thereby to release us from the slavery to sin.
St. Paul tells us that not only have we been given the great gift of Grace (the Greek word for grace literally means ‘gift’), but it is a Grace that is a sort of state of life, or realm. It is the “grace in which we stand”. That is why the Church speaks of being in a “state of grace”. So this is a gift of salvation, wrought for us by the saving death of Christ on the cross. And our participation in that One Sacrifice will result in our participation in the glory of the resurrection.
There is a piece of this reading that the Lectionary skips over:
“More than that,” St. Paul tells us, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope … “
How can we rejoice in our sufferings? It is not natural for us to rejoice in suffering, but St. Paul gives us a different perspective: that suffering produces endurance. Have you ever heard that “whatever does not kill me will make me stronger”? That is what St. Paul is talking about here. Our suffering strengthens that character that we have already been stamped with. The Greek word for character refers to a stamp that leaves its image imprinted in melted wax. In the same way, through Baptism and Confirmation, God has set His seal upon us, His character, and through our perseverance in suffering, that character, that stamp of God upon us is strengthened.
This season of Lent, this year in particular, has been augmented by the current virus pandemic. It seems to have thrown people into a panic. But perhaps, is god trying to get our attention through this crisis? Not by way of chastisement, but a Lenten opportunity to enter into silent prayer. Perhaps this period of social isolation is a good opportunity to slow down and listen for that “still small voice” of the Lord, consoling us, letting us know that He is still here, that He is still nearer that we could have ever thought possible.
Perhaps this is the right time to shut down all the distractions and listen for God’s “still small voice”. Instead of one more YouTube video, or one more night in front of the news, maybe enter into prayer and in the silence, listen for God’s voice calling to you.