Glory to Jesus Christ!
My dear friends, now we have begun Lent, the great fast, our journey of penance and purification. We have had several weeks to prepare ourselves for the great fast, and I certainly hope that that period of preparation has served you well thus far, and that you’ve been able to have a good first week of Lent.
But, even if a person made no preparation, it’s still never too late to make a start. As long as we have breath in our body, we can have hope in our hearts. Never too late to make a new and good beginning.
For, wherever we are, we need only to open the eyes of our soul, to look up and to see that Christ comes to meet us. We are always in His mind’s eye, and His thoughts and His cares are ever towards us.
This leads us to the great lesson that we ought to learn this week, and that is – more than anything – the essence of our Lenten observance is nothing more or less than simply following our Lord.
You see, all the rest – the fast, the abstinence, giving things up, taking things on – all of these are important, but if they are not in service of following the Lord, they are pointless.
It is instructive that in the Gospel for this first Sunday of Lent, we begin with our Lord’s calling of the Apostle Philip. I rather like how matter-of-fact it is. “Jesus went forth into Galilee, and He findeth Philip. And Jesus saith to him: Follow Me.” And that’s it.
Summed up in just two words, but that is the invitation to each of us. We can respond as we will, of course. But the season of Lent is meant as an assistance to us to every day ever more be able to respond to the invitation to follow the Lord.
And the spiritual journey is very much like the physical journey. That is, in order to do it well, you have to be prepared; you have to know what to take with you, what to leave behind. A person who is making a pilgrimage on foot, or even just going for a day hike is going to have to take along things and leave behind things that a person going for an afternoon stroll around the block wouldn’t have to consider.
Imagine, if we were going to be taking a hike, it wouldn’t be necessary or even prudent to haul along our refrigerator, entertainment center, or the kitchen sink. All those things are good; they’re useful. But they would serve only to slow us down on a journey, causing far more trouble that they are worth. Instead, we would take what is necessary and prudent. We clothe ourselves in view of what we will be facing. We would take water, and perhaps food for the journey, though certainly the food would be of a different quality and quantity than we might be used to at home. We might take along a hiking stick to help us in the way.
The same goes for the spiritual journey during this time of Lent. We have things that we take with us – increased prayer rule, silence, spiritual and corporal works of mercy; and things that we leave behind – foods in certain quantities and qualities, certain physical comforts. All of this again not because food is bad, or that physical comforts are evil in themselves – but they can serve to slow us down, and to cause far more trouble than they’re worth.
What is worth the trouble is the journey itself, the following of the Lord – for in following the Lord you are not simply following the idea of the Lord, the memory of the Lord, but you are really and truly following the Lord in closeness to Him, He is leading the way, and He is right there with you.
For in whatever situation, whatever state of soul you might find yourself, you are close to the Lord’s heart; He thinks of you; He has you in His mind’s eye. And we have the word of today’s Gospel on that, when our Lord spoke to Nathanael, He revealed that He had seen Nathanael when Philip had called to him, under the fig tree, even though this was afar off physically. Our Lord, being the Author of all that is, knew Nathanael even before Nathanael had heard of Him.
It is the same with all of us. Today we hear our Lord’s call to us, the call for Lent and for every day: Follow Me, He says to us.
For He knows us, He knows our condition, He knows our need for grace and salvation, and from even before His invitation came to our ears, He was watching us and caring for us. And so today the Church echoes the call of Her Divine Spouse, as He says to us: Follow Me.
This is the very essence of our Lenten journey, the following of our Lord Jesus Christ as He leads us to repentance, and purification, justification, and ultimately salvation.
Follow Me, He says. Let us make haste to follow Him.