Lent comes early this year.
It seems we've barely had a chance to catch our breath after Christmas when Ash Wednesday suddenly appears on the calendar, perhaps surprising us, catching us off guard.
With so little time between two important liturgical seasons, how can we adequately prepare ourselves for the significance of Lent?
"Live as children of light," words from Paul's letter to the Ephesians used on the Fourth Sunday of Lent this year, might well serve as a theme to help us prepare and to guide us through the 40 days ahead.
Lent is the time in which we ponder what we seek in life, what takes precedence in our life, what matters most.
For some, riches are what they seek. For others, power drives them. For still others, pleasure is their pursuit. Yet, all these priorities in life leave a person unfulfilled. They do not lead to light, but to deeper darkness.
On the First Sunday of Lent, the Gospel of Matthew finds the Lord Himself tempted to put His trust in riches, power, pleasure; but He rebukes Satan, reminding him that "The Lord, your God shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve."
Christ calls us to the same response this Lent.
The readings and disciplines of Lent direct us to the One who alone brings the fulfillment we seek. Most of us have known Christ since we were children. We have heard and read much about Him. But have we really met Christ? Have we become friends with Christ?
At the Easter Vigil celebration, the highlight of the Liturgical Year, we begin by lighting the fire. From that fire we light the Paschal Candle. Then, that lit candle -- representing the risen Christ -- is brought into a darkened church where the flame, fragile and flickering, breaks the darkness as the minister sings, "Light of Christ!" This phrase is repeated two more times as the church becomes aglow with light.
Lent begins a 40-day journey to deepen our relationship with Christ, which in turn sends us forth to bring His love, His compassion, His light to the world in which we live.
Christ is the Light of the World, and whoever follows Him will have the light of life (Jn 8:12).
We are children of His light.
We need to encounter Christ as brother and friend. Relationships deepen when people spend time together, getting to know one another, understanding what matters to the other.
Lent is a time to do just that -- to spend time with the Lord.
We can meet Christ in the scriptures. We can meet Christ in the Eucharist. We can meet Christ through spiritual reading, especially the lives of the saints who are the friends of Christ. They knew Him well.
Lent invites us to slow down and take the time necessary to engage Christ.
For me, that only happens when I fix in my schedule time for Christ: time to read the scriptures; time to spend in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord; time to do spiritual reading.
Unscheduled, that time never seems to happen. Fix some time in your schedule these six weeks for getting to know the Lord, our Light.
Having met Christ in a deeper way, we strive to live as He lived. We seek to be light for others, especially those who live in darkness.
Lent becomes an occasion to reach out to those who suffer, struggle, are confused, discouraged. Many persons today, even those in our family, live surrounded by darkness. They lack hope.
Let Lent be an occasion to bring the hope that comes from knowing Christ to those who lack hope. In the old days, when streets were lit by kerosene lamps, someone was responsible to protect the fragile ember within a lantern from which the lamps of the city were lit.
We bear the responsibility to bring the fragile light of Christ to those who need Christ desperately.
For many people, life holds much darkness. They live with disappointment, failed dreams, debilitating illness, failures and sins that rob them of their dignity. They need the light of Christ. That light happens through us, through our deeds and actions.
Look for occasions this Lent to bring hope and light to others. Those occasions are numerous, but sometimes so subtle that you can miss them.
These six weeks will pass quickly. Seek His Light. Be in His Light.