During these days of late winter, as I reflect on the season of Lent, a multitude of liturgical themes and images comes to mind. It is much like taking a journey from that mountain Crèche of St. Francis of Assisi to a sobering scene further back in history, with three wooden crosses on a mount named Golgotha which changed the landscape forever. On a more personal level, it reminds me of a shift from a just-ended season filled with hopes and good wishes to one that harks not of heralding angels to lowly shepherds during their last night watch, but to the journey inward — bringing forth the hope of responding more faithfully to a call to turn back and believe in the Good News.
As many do, my own life’s journey has taken similar paths, both outwardly in the desire to go to one place that has constantly captivated my imagination — from Bolivia and its desert-like beauty during its winter season, to the most personal and inward journey of conversion in responding more truthfully to my relationships with those around me, and ultimately with God.
Although the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia captures the beauty of its desert-like conditions during the winter months, one season cannot rule the days as they go by, but must rather give way to the total calendar of seasons. However, my journeys to Bolivia have always been during the winter months. I have never had the chance to appreciate the beauty of the other seasons. For a number of years now, I wanted to visit the Franciscans, my teachers, friends, and the children and parents at the orphanage I journeyed with during my time of formation in the Franciscan life. For one reason or another I have not been able to do that.
However, my memory of how a desert can be transformed from its muted and somewhat hidden beauty does not fail me. A desert can be transformed by a change in season or the occasional unexpected rain showers. No doubt, Bolivia’s rainy summer days do the same for its Andean landscape. The beauty within becomes more apparent, more appreciated, more faithful to its being/its eternal calling, because of the rainfall.
These experiences often bring me home, home to my own life’s journey and seasons which fill it, especially to my Lenten journey and its continuing Spring-like blossoming. Frequently life will have its way with us when something or someone points us in the right direction; perhaps another person, loved one, or even nature itself. These moments call for an individual response. One time it dawned on me that an honest and heartfelt “I’m sorry for what I did” is more powerful than sending flowers or cards. Could it really be that simple? Should it be?
If I have learned anything from my journey, it is that my faith and the Lenten season offer me a differing perspective, one that challenges me to ask myself if I honestly believe in the Good News. I know Francis of Assisi did, for those who might even slightly be familiar with his stories, will undoubtedly know the story of the Leper or perhaps the Wolf of Gubbio, both wonderful stories of conversion. What about the wonderful parables and stories of the Lenten lectionary, such as the Ash Wednesday words of St. Paul to his community at Corinth speaking to them as well as us, ‘now is the acceptable time…now is the day.’ What about the Prodigal Son, the Woman at the Well, or Matthew, Chapter 25, when the chosen ones ask, ‘When did we Lord…?’ and Jesus responds, ‘When you did it for the least, you did it for me.’ These wonderful ancient words live true today. They call us to respond much like that Bolivian desert that longs for its summer rains, not just hoping to quench its endless thirst, but to once again allow its truth to speak…as new life springs forth. Like that desert land so far away, Lent is a time for us to enter into our own journey of conversion…a time to live out the hope that resides in us.
— Fr. Raymond is parochial vicar at St. Joseph Church in East Rutherford, N.J.