By Fr. James “Santiago” Gaynor, C.PP.S.
My childhood memories of Lent are of not eating the chocolate candy I wanted and of 40 days of fasting and abstinence. I remember having feelings of sadness and suffering. I was glad when it was finally over. The true culmination of Lent is Jesus breaking the bonds of death for us in his resurrection. But that was not on my mind. I rather celebrated getting back to what I craved, the candy.
The giving up no doubt developed some discipline in me and showed me I could survive without these human pleasures and be a better person, and better family and church member. So, I did grow during those Lents of my youth. The word Lent means “to lengthen” or “to grow,” not at our waistline, but in knowledge of God’s plan for us in Jesus Christ. The following of Jesus gives us not chocolate candy or our favorite beer, but the strength to break through selfishness into a life of sharing with brothers and sisters, classmates and coworkers that will extend beyond our earthly life into eternity.
Because of Jesus we experience God not as a terrifying, punishing God, but rather as a loving God who is a Holy Spirit. Following Jesus, we grow into his likeness, and God, as loving Father, presents himself to others through us.
Before our growing up in Christ, we are sometimes like the people of the first reading from Exodus. They are going through a “Lent of the desert.” They are rebellious and talk against God and Moses. Despite their rebellious spirit, God does attend to their need of water, and they are “lengthened” in their faith in God and his plan for them.
The Gospel reading tells us of Jesus knowing what kind of a person the women at the well was, having had five different husbands and being with another man now. He nevertheless took the time go through a Lenten process of growth with her, helping her understand her erroneous life. Then, he not only shows her a better way, but through her, takes his Good News to the whole village where she lived. She grew into a better way and the town folks grew toward knowing God in Christ, as merciful.
So, for us too, it is not only our own personal growth in Christ this Lent, but also growing in our missionary efforts. We are tempted to stay in our church buildings and offices and wait for the people to come to us, when Jesus did not stay in the temple or his parents’ house but went out to meet the people where they were.
We can do that today by the internet, cell phones, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok. They can be means of evangelizing, but the face to face, personal contact, brings a more personal and lasting growth and lengthening of the Christian spirit.
Fr. James Gaynor, C.PP.S., who served in Peru for many years, is now in ministry at St. James the Less Church in Columbus.