The First Week of Lent: Join the Journey!  February 16, 2024

Bend your knees, mend your heart, and lend your hands.”

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days. Mark 1:12

This year’s Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent offers Mark’s very short account of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert. By contrast to the detailed descriptions of Jesus’ temptation by Matthew and Luke, St. Mark simply mentions that Jesus was tempted by the devil, lived among wild beasts, and was tended to by angels. What all three Gospels have in common is that they attest to the fact that Jesus spent 40 days in the desert.

Pope Francis equates the forty days of Lent with the forty days Jesus spent in the desert. On Ash Wednesday, 2020 he described the Lenten desert as a place of silence, a place of solitude and a place of essentials.

Attentive desert silence according to Pope Francis is the perfect antidote to a world that is “polluted by too much verbal violence, by many offensive and noxious words that the internet amplifies.” In response, he calls us to nurture silence because it is in silence that we can truly hear the voice of those in need and receive the Word of God.

Today, often not by their choosing, many people live in solitude as they are overlooked, neglected, isolated. Pope Francis suggests that a true Lenten desert experience of solitude will guide us to those who are forced into solitude and silently ask for our help.

Finally, Pope Francis warns us against drowning in the “many useless things that surround us”! He points out that “we chase after thousands of things that seem necessary and that in reality are not”. And he muses about “how good it would be for us to free ourselves from many superfluous realities to rediscover what matters, to rediscover the faces of those who are beside us!” He ends by suggesting that “fasting is knowing how to give up things that are vain and superfluous in order to reach the essentials.”

During this first week of Lent, we invite you to: bend your knees while cultivating silence; mend your heart by focusing on essentials; and lend your hands by reaching out to those who are lonely.

  • Bending our Knees by Cultivating Silence:
    • As individuals and as a society we have become estranged from silence. Silence makes us uncomfortable. We crave constant sound, and we love to lose ourselves in endless noise. This level of devaluation of silence has become disastrous for our personal and communal life. We urgently need to reclaim silence as an essential part of our lives.
    • It takes a good deal of effort to cultivate profound silence. It starts by paying careful attention to our speech because when unchecked we can easily fall for the temptation of flattery, bragging and gossip. It also involves the creation of a physical space but mostly of an inner space where we can open ourselves to the working of the Holy Sprit who will console, correct, and regenerate us.
    • During this Lenten Journey let’s fast from all the noise that surrounds us and let us give up all needless speech so we can rediscover how to listen deeply to the voice of God and the needs of others.
    • One small step could be to turn off the radio while driving.
  • Mending our Hearts by Focusing on Essentials:
    • On numerous occasions, Pope Francis has decried the fact that our society has fallen prey to unbridled consumerism. In December 2019, leading up to Christmas he warned us against the temptation to believe that the meaning of life lies in “accumulation” and asked us to “resist the dazzling lights of consumption.”
    • Saint Pope John Paul II described consumerism as “a style of life directed at having rather than being.” Consumerism he said is a “web of false and superficial gratification.” True happiness does not flow from what we have but from who we are.
    • During this Lenten Journey let’s evaluate our lives by asking ourselves the question: “Do I really need all these material objects? Is it possible for me to manage without pursuing more and more unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity.” As good question to ask ourselves is “What am I willing to give up”?
    • One small step could be to go through our clothes and to donate the excess clothing we have.
  • Lending our Hands by Reaching Out to those who are Lonely:
  • “Solitude” according to Thomas Merton “is not found so much by looking outside the boundaries of our dwelling, as by staying within. Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present, you will never find it.”
  • Pope Francis proposes that the experience of personal desert solitude, which is closely connected to desert silence is a prerequisite for us to open our eyes, our hearts, and our hands to the many people around us who are lonely, neglected, and forgotten.
  • During this Lenten Journey let’s strengthen our desire to walk the path of charity and welcome a much-needed culture of encounter rather than rejection.
  • A small step could be to check in on our neighbors who may be elderly or sick.

From our Creation Justice Team

Every Friday in Lent, our Creation Justice team will offer some suggestions as to how we might be gentler with our planet and help implement the vision Pope Francis set out in his encyclical Laudato Si’ on the care of creation and his more recent Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Dominum.

Your first thought today probably wasn’t that Pope Francis wants you to schedule a visit with the Home Energy Squad. And yet it is a simple thing we should all consider. To find out more check out For Lent, Consider an Energy Fast.

And please remember to be patient with yourself and others and don’t let yourself be overwhelmed.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian heroism. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.

Blessed Lent,
Johan van Parys, PhD
Managing Director of Ministries/ Director of Liturgy & Sacred Arts