"Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed" (Preface of Lent 1).
The purpose of Lent is succinctly expressed by this preface. Catechumens prepare for baptism into the paschal mystery. The faithful are reminded of their baptisms, and will renew their baptismal vows at the Easter liturgy.
Baptism and Life
This baptismal focus is a life focus, and is illumined by Lenten readings as well as by the encyclical, The Gospel of Life.
Baptism initiates us into the eternal life Christ gives us. "Eternal" does not only mean it never ends. It also refers to the "quality" of that life, namely, it is a share in the life of the Eternal God.
The baptized, therefore, are sons and daughters of God and are members of the Church, the People of Life (see Evangelium Vitae #79). The baptized have taken hold of the eternal life promised them (see Rom.6:4) and are already living it (Gal 2:19-20; John 6:47).
The choices of the baptized are therefore to be shaped by their new identities (see Rom 6:6; Eph. 4:17-24). We see how Christ calls the Samaritan woman to repent as she accepts the waters of new life (see John 4:15-24). Lenten repentance is necessary so that God's people may more deeply become who they are. They are called to see their sins more clearly. Hence baptism is known as "illumination." The passage about the man born blind (John 9) is therefore a key Lenten passage (4th Sunday of Lent-A and optional Mass for 4th week of Lent).
Anyone who makes the Lenten journey is called to be more alert to the attacks on human life and dignity around them. The people of life are called to reject sin and all the devil's works and empty promises (Renewal of Baptismal Promises, Easter Liturgy). The "pro-choice" and "right to die" mentalities are two of those "empty promises" which are firmly rejected by the baptized. A firm rejection of these positions is integral to repentance. Lent is the perfect time for us to call our congregations to a clearer understanding of why this is true, and to lead them to a deeper affirmation of life, both natural and eternal, in the celebration of the Paschal Mystery.
Repentance, a key theme of Lent, is a changing of the mind, and, with it, one's life, away from the path of sin and toward a life of holiness. It is not possible to repent of a sin which one does not recognize or admit is a sin. During Lent, we ask to be delivered from such blindness, and to be forgiven even our hidden sins. The application to the abortion problem is clear when we consider that the injustice of this act has been proclaimed as a "right" and a legitimate "choice." Because such respectable elements of society as the Supreme Court, many medical associations, and even some Christian denominations continue to call abortion a "right," many find it hard to recognize it as a wrong. Part of the purification of Lent involves the metanoia, the "change of mind," so necessary in this area.
The works of charity that constitute a fundamental form of penance can include reaching out to those in need of concrete assistance in their pregnancies. Volunteering at pregnancy resource centers is a perfect way to do this, as is the effort to make such centers better known in the community. A common fund could be established, for example, to purchase an ad in the paper or the Yellow Pages. Giving to such a fund is, in fact, helping the poorest of the poor.
To stand up in any way for the unborn child can be a penitential act, since it often brings unwarranted criticism, even from fellow worshipers who should be doing more themselves to end abortion.
This Lent, may the whole Church be strengthened in her mission to build the Culture of Life!