A few months after I entered recovery for addictions I was asked by my congregation to go to Southdown, near Toronto, for an assessment. They recommended residential treatment. I agreed, externally, but inside I was fighting it with every part of my being. I could not imagine being cut off from my normal life, much less of having the stigma of “needing help”. In retrospect, though, I realize that those months were among the best in my life. They were a time of growth and healing, on a level I would not have experienced without being removed from my day-to-day concerns. I can’t help but have that image in my mind when I read Mark’s description of Jesus’ being driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. Matthew and Luke have a much gentler, “led by the Spirit,” but Mark is strong. There is a force behind that word. Jesus was impelled to go—and the Judean wilderness is not a very hospitable place. Yet I can’t help but think that it was an important, formative time for Jesus. In those days of deprivation between his baptism and the beginning of his ministry, he was able to focus on what kind of ministry he would have, and where the Father was leading him.
For me, that is what Lent is about, albeit on a much gentler scale. Each year the Church gifts us with this season of preparation, and invites us to do something “out of the ordinary”. The “what” is completely personal: It can be giving up something you like, or adding something (which is actually giving up of one’s free time). Many people choose to give up desserts, or eating between meals, or a favourite dish. Others choose to introduce (or increase) time for prayer and reflection. In today’s world where so many of us spend hours online or on our smartphones, perhaps time away from that is a beneficial activity. You may choose to be a part of the parish mission. The Little Black Books from Saginaw are a good way to take six minutes of your day to focus on spiritual things (and you can learn a lot, too! Just in the first week we learn about St. Leo the Great, Venerable Pierre Toussaint, Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sr. Blandina [Rosa Maria Segale], and St. Andrew Kim Taegon.). It’s never too late to begin, nor to start over. So, if you haven’t yet chosen anything, or if you’ve already fallen away from what you chose, I encourage you to try. Together we journey towards Easter and the great feasts of our Church.