Vigil of the First Sunday of Lent

by Sister Cecilia Olson, OSB

February 17, 2024

To make a permanent commitment is risky; we have no guarantees and no way of knowing what lies ahead.  And yet it’s not a rare occurrence; couples pronounce their wedding vows, men and women pronounce vows to a religious community. What prompts us to take the plunge? Is it not that our trust and our love for this specific person or this specific way of life has become so much a part of us that we are willing to take a leap of faith?

In our Gospel, Jesus announces that the Kingdom of God is at hand and then He tells us very directly what is required for this commitment: “Repent and believe the Gospel.” 

The Hebrew word for repent is teshuva; it means to return, to come back. Contrition, and making amends are a part of repentance, but perhaps the most difficult part is that I must honestly admit that I’ve drifted off course; that where I am is not where I want to be and to return I must change.

Remember a time you didn’t follow the directions your cell phone gave and out of nowhere a voice says: “Reconfigure! Reconfigure.”  Real repentance is to reconfigure our hearts. No one can do this for us nor is anyone else to blame that we’ve wandered off the path. Pope Francis reminds us of this when he said: “How often we blame others, society, the world, for everything that happens to us. It is always the fault of others. We spend time assigning blame, but spending time blaming others is wasting time. We become angry, bitter and keep God away from our heart.”   

 Jesus tells us how this reconfiguring comes about: “believe in the Gospel.”  This is not some intellectual assent to doctrines and creeds; to believe in the Gospel is to hand our life completely over to the God of infinite love revealed in Jesus. To believe in the Gospel is to be open to daily conversatio. There is no time off with this belief; it must be put into practice day after day after day. It reminds me of the story about the great violinist Fritz Kreisler.  Following one of his recitals, a woman came up to him and said: “I’d give my life to play as beautifully as you!” “Madam”, Kreisler replied, “I have given my life to play like this!”  

We need Lent. Which of us has not at times drifted from our commitment to be women of the Gospel? Just as Jesus “was driven into the desert,” we too need times of solitude and prayer, times to allow God’s Word to untie the knots in our hearts. We need Lent to practice fasting and almsgiving to raise our awareness of how much we have and how little so many others have. And we need Lent to prepare. Lent is not an isolated liturgical season. It’s the time when together we ready our hearts for the culmination of these 40 days, the Easter Triduum, where unlike any other time of the  Church year, we remember God’s commitment to us and renew our commitment to walk the path made and shaped by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Lent is not an endurance test, a time of doom and gloom, a time to wear what Pope Francis calls “a funeral face.”  It’s about changing and reconfiguring our hearts so that, with the Gospel as our guide, we can continue to “run the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.

Lent is not a time of sadness. St. Benedict reminds us of this when he wrote in chapter 49: “let us look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.” With those words in mind, I think it makes perfect sense to say: “Happy Reconfiguring and a Blessed Lent for us all!


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