1st Sunday of Lent
John Chambers, in his book With Eyes Fixed on Jesus, tells the story of two people who traveled to the Cave of Knowledge. The legend was that the deeper you went into this cave, the more knowledge and wisdom you would acquire. When the two friends finally arrived at the cave, they met a guide outside the cave who said to them, “Before I take you inside the cave, you must first tell me how far into the Cave of Knowledge you want to travel. Do you want to travel until we reach the end of the cave?”
The two travelers discussed the matter between themselves. And after a few moments, they finally said to the guide, “We only want to go a little way into the cave, just enough so that we can say that we have been inside the Cave of Knowledge.”
The two travelers were not really interested in acquiring more knowledge. They were only concerned with just telling people that they had been inside the Cave of Knowledge. They were like some people who go to college, not so much for the learning as for the college diploma.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. As we begin our Lenten journey, we have to ask ourselves: How far into the way of the cross do we want to go? How deeply into Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection do we want to share? How much do we want to have Christ in our lives?
If there is a “Cave of faith,” the question would be: How far into the Cave of Faith do you want to travel? Well, judging from the interest of some Christians in Jesus and their Christian faith, they might answer such a question by saying, “Oh, I’m interested in the Faith, just enough so that I can have a baptismal certificate… or so that I can get married in the church.” Or, their actions might say, “I’m interested in the Faith, just enough so that I can celebrate Christmas and Easter… or so that I can go to Mass from time to time.” Or, their attitude and mentality might say, “I’m interested in the Faith only up to a certain point – only to a point where I can be nourished spiritually, but not to the point of personally getting involved and actively participating in the life and mission of Christ – in the life of the Church.”
How far do we want to go into the Cave of Faith? This is a question that we all should ask ourselves on this first Sunday of Lent. To dwell more deeply on this question, we have to examine our Christian life through the traditional practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
First, there is prayer. How do we pray? When do we pray? Are we simply saying prayers and reciting petitions or are we truly in communion with God? How often do we pray? Is it only for emergencies or is it a daily, regular practice? According to Joseph Krempa, our prayer life reflects a relationship with God that is distinctly our own. “It is intensely personal.” “Nobody can do our praying for us.” Lent is a time to diagnose the health of our prayer life.
Secondly, there is fasting. Do we believe that it is important? Fasting or giving up certain foods is a way of reclaiming self-control in our lives. Spiritual masters tell us that if we allow our superficial hungers – hunger for foods and drinks, hunger for material wealth and possessions, hunger for power and control, hunger for worldly entertainment, hunger for sensual pleasure or sexual satisfaction… hunger for anything… if we allow these hungers to dominate our life we will never reach “the deepest hunger” – our hunger for God. We fast because we have a hunger for God – We are meant to access that hunger – to feel it – so that we can direct it towards God.
Finally, there is almsgiving or works of charity. Almsgiving teaches us to focus on the welfare of our neighbor by generously sharing our blessings with them. This practice takes us out of the capsule of our private life to address the wider world of need that surrounds us. It orients us towards our neighbor. It reminds us that we have a responsibility for our brothers and sisters. In addition, our acts of charity help to shape the kind of society in which we will live.
Again, how far do we want to go into the Cave of Faith? How much do we want to have Christ in our lives? Lent is a time of grace that enables us to walk and complete the way of the cross (unto Calvary), to share in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.