By Father Alonzo Cox
Every year as we begin the season of Lent, someone will ask me the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I could always remember from a very young age looking at Lent as a time in which you “gave something up.” What confused me, especially as I grew older, was why I would give something up that was not good for me and then, after 40 days, go back to it? It’s fascinating to hear people say that they gave up smoking, bad food, and unhealthy spiritual and physical habits for 40 days of Lent but then picked all of those things up again on Easter Sunday. The purpose of giving anything up is to let go of it and allow Christ to take that place.
Every year on the first Sunday of Lent, we hear in the gospel the temptations of Jesus. As the Lord journeyed in the desert, the devil tempted him. There are many moments in our lives when Satan tempts us with so many things. The devil wants to sever our relationship with the Lord, so he places other things before our eyes, telling us that this is what we need to get through the trials and tribulations of life. Satan is always at work pulling us away from the path of righteousness and holiness. Jesus himself tells us, “the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.”
These words were said to us on Ash Wednesday as we began the season of Lent. As the ashes were imposed on our heads, the priest, deacon, or minister said, “repent and believe in the gospel.” We must use these weeks of Lent as a time of spiritual renewal, not focusing on what we are giving up or the things we don’t have but ultimately on what we are gaining, and that is a stronger relationship with Jesus Christ.
In today’s second reading from the First Letter of St. Peter, we hear that Christ suffered for our sins that he might lead us to God. Christ gave himself up for us that we might be saved. Lent offers us an opportunity to keep our eyes fixated on the cross. Christ shed his blood on the cross that we might share in his resurrection. We give things up at Lent to strengthen our relationship with the man who gives of himself for us, out of pure love.
During this Lenten season, we pray for those who will be reborn through the saving waters of Baptism on Easter. As members of the mystical Body of Christ, each of us has been saved through the waters of Baptism. We are called to use these days of Lent to focus on building up the Kingdom of God here on this Earth. We must never allow Satan and his empty promises to take hold of us. May these days of Lent be a time of rejuvenation, as we repent for the sins that we have committed, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Readings for First Sunday of Lent
Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Father Cox is the pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish, Bedford-Stuyvesant and coordinator for the vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns for the Diocese of Brooklyn.