Understanding the Journey ~ The Rev. Frank Bellino

Second Sunday of Lent is already upon us. Do you know where the word Lent comes from? In the old English world, the word “Lenten” meant “springtime”. And I think it is safe to say that, here in San Antonio, we are ready for some springtime! In Latin, Lent, however, means something altogether different. The word for this season is Quadragesima, denotes a season of preparation by fasting and prayer, to imitate the forty day example of Christ. A little historical fact, Lent used to begin on the first Sunday of Lent, also called Quadragesima Sunday after the Gospel reading for that weekend of Jesus fasting in the desert for forty days and ended as the Triduum began the evening of Holy Thursday. When we count the days from the first Sunday of Lent to Holy Thursday, it adds up to forty, including the Sundays. Over time, however, there was a discussion that the Sundays during Lent should not be fast days. When asked about fasting on the Sundays during Lent, tradition says, Solemnities, even during the Season of Lent, ought to still be seen as a feast days. Sundays are considered Solemnities after all, are the Lord’s Day, and a day of rest. Beginning the count for Lent on the first Sunday of Lent, and Sundays are not followed as days for fasting, this would equal fewer than forty days of fasting before Easter. In order to make the forty days as Jesus did, they allowed the Sundays to be removed as days of fast and we now start Lenten fasting on Ash Wednesday and when you do the Catholic math it remains the traditional forty days.

I mention this little bit of history since the second Sunday of Lent is also a good time to check in with ourselves on how we are doing with our Lenten promises. Did we eat the Filet-O-Fish instead of the Big Mac on Friday? Inquiring minds want to know. And how are we doing with what we gave up for Lent for that matter? Was it chocolate, alcohol, whatever? You see, as lightweight as our Lenten practices seem to be nowadays, I think it is helpful to consider what Quadragesima would have been like if you lived in medieval times. St. Thomas Aquinas proposed that no food would be allowed at all on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On the other days of Lent, food would only be allowed after 3 PM (the hour of our Lord’s death on the cross). And, no animal flesh was allowed at all, neither were eggs or dairy, and Sundays were not free days from the fast either.  St. Thomas Aquinas believed in the most extreme fasting during Lent. I think for the people living in medieval times, the severity of this kind of fasting was meant to be life changing, life altering, helping Christians to embrace the seriousness of their baptismal identity as a People of God. Lent was supposed to be understood as a time for transformation. Someone who saw that kind of fast would certainly undergo a makeover by Easter Sunday, as well as their waist to say the least. I am not suggesting that we bring back that kind of Lenten fasting. Nevertheless, obviously though we see the season of Lent, the most important is the love we put into it in the first place.

If you think that fasting in medieval times was serious business, check out how covenants were made in the time of Abraham in our first reading from Genesis. Covenants were meant to be truly life-changing events as well. The Lord promises Abraham that his descendants would be like the number of stars in the heaven and offers the land before him as his possession.

Abraham wants to seal this deal and so God asks him to bring a three-year-old heifer, a three year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Genesis says, “Abram brought him all these, split them in two, and placed each half opposite the other”. You see, that’s how the deals were done in those days, you would meet among the split animals to make the agreement which was a way of indicating, if I break my word may what happened to these animals happen to me. These kinds of covenants in those days were meant to be life altering events that helped move a person or tribe from one reality to a new reality based upon the agreement being made. These covenants were meant to be truly transformative. As we know, the Chosen People in the Old Testament broke one covenant after the other with God, which makes Jesus’ choice to die on the cross in atonement for our sins all the more remarkable.

All of these observations are meant to help us understand our Gospel reading from St. Luke about the transfiguration of Jesus. Here we are on Mount Tabor, Jesus is transfigured before Peter, John and James, foreshadowing the glory of the resurrection. Jesus is also seen conversing with Moses and Elijah, signifying to the disciples that Jesus is the fulfillment of both the Law and the Prophets. However, there’s something really unique about St. Luke’s version of the transfiguration. You see, in Luke’s Gospel it says, “And behold, two men were conversing with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to conduct in Jerusalem.” The reference to exodus here is unique to St. Luke’s Gospel and is meant to help us connect the exodus of the Jews from Egypt to the Promised Land, to what Jesus conducts for us by his passion, death and resurrection. You see the exodus from Egypt was a transformative event for the Chosen People. They went from a state of being slaves to inheriting the land God promised to Abraham. The process for that transformation took the Hebrews a lot longer than forty days. It took forty years for that transformation to unfold, and it took centuries more before God was ready to offer a new exodus to the human race through his only Son our Lord.

This new exodus presented to us, through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, offers us a path from the tyranny of sin and death to the glory of the resurrection and eternal life with God. This ultimate transformation that Christians seek is what St. Paul is referring to in our second reading from Philippians when he says, “Brothers and sisters: Our citizenship is in heaven”. Think about how radical St. Paul’s message is, “Our citizenship is heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our humble body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into obedience to himself.” (“Philippians 3:21)

My family, the second Sunday of Lent invites us to accept this season as time for a radical change. Our Lenten rituals of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are meant to help us with this while we make our pilgrimage to Holy Week. We can ask ourselves this week, what areas in my life need radical transformation? In what ways can I allow this season of Lent to transform my heart to be more like Jesus? These are good questions to ask as we continue our pilgrimage into the desert with our Lord. During this season of Lent, the level of transformation God will bless us with will depend largely on our response.