This article covers why Lent has forty days, the meaning of the number 40 in the Old and New Testament, and the meaning of the fasting and temptation of Jesus Christ in the Desert. It was originally written as a commentary on the scripture readings for the first Sunday in Lent.
In the English language, the special season before Easter is called “Lent.” The word comes from the “lengthening” of daylight hours as we progress from the darkness of winter to the new light of spring. But other languages, such as Spanish, have a name for this season that is derived from the word for forty. It is the season of the forty days.
OK, we do penance for forty days because Jesus fasted forty days in the wilderness. But did you ever wonder why he was out there for forty days rather than seven or ten or fifty?
Think back to the Old Testament. Noah and company in the Ark watched rain fall for 40 days and forty nights. Moses was up on Sinai receiving the 10 commandments for 40 days. The Israelites wandered around the desert for 40 years.
So why all these forties? Probably because it is forty weeks that a woman carries her developing baby before a new life can come forth from the womb.
All these “forties” are a necessary and not-so-comfortable prelude for something new. In Noah’s case, it’s the rebirth of a sinful world that had been cleansed by raging flood waters. In Moses’ case, it was the birth of the people of the covenant. For the nomadic Israelites, it was the start of a new, settled existence in the Promised land.
And Jesus? What did his forty days mean? The birth of a new Israel liberated from sin, reconciled to God, and governed by the law of the Spirit rather than a law chiseled in stone.
But think back to the story of Moses and the Israelites. There was someone who did not want them to go out into the desert to offer sacrifice to their God. Pharaoh did not take the loss of his cheap labor lying down. When Jesus begins his mission of liberation, there is another slave master who is no more willing than Pharoah to let his minions go without a fight.
Since the sixties, it has been fashionable in some quarters to dismiss the devil as a relic of ancient mythology or medieval fantasy. The guy with the pointy tale and the pitchfork comes in handy in cartoons and costume parties, but how can we take such an image seriously? In the Bible, they say, let’s read “Satan” merely as a symbol of human evil.
Such a view is clearly at odds with Scripture, Tradition, and recent teaching of the Magisterium. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, says St. Paul. If you don’t know your enemy and his tactics, you are bound to lose.
The temptation of Jesus in the desert shows us the tactics of the “Dark Lord.” Bread, a symbol for all that sustains our physical life, is a great blessing. But Satan tries to make material things the ultimate, distracting us from a deeper hunger and a more enduring food. Political power and all leadership is intended by God for the sake of serving the common good; Satan twists things to make leaders self-seeking, oppressive tyrants like himself. The lust for power and fame ironically leads not to dominion but to slavery to the Dark Lord (remember what happened to the Nazghoul in the Lord of the Rings). Then there’s religious temptation, the trickiest of them all– Manipulating God for our own glory, using his gifts to make people look at us rather than at Him. Sounds a lot like the Pharisees.
Jesus triumphs in this first wrestling match. He shows us how to keep from being pinned. Fasting breaks undue attachments to material blessings and stimulates our spiritual appetite. Humble service breaks the stranglehold of pride. The reverent worship of authentic faith breaks the full nelson of superstition, magic, and all arrogant religion. And the word of God is shown as the sword of the Spirit, the secret weapon that slashes through the enemy’s lies.
So our forty days? Time to use the tactics modeled by our captain and break the strongholds. Prayer, fasting, humble service. The heavenly bread of the Eucharist and the Word of God. If we make use of them diligently during this season, pregnant with possibilities, we can enter into greater freedom. Darkness can give way to increasing light. Something new and wonderful can be born in us.
Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
February 17, 2013
5th Ordinary Time: To Serve the King
The scene is set. Isaiah remembers exactly when it was–the year that King Uzziah died. He remembers what he saw: God on a throne seated in the Temple. He has royal robes on. The train of his garment is so large that it filled the Temple. There were angels there. Seraphim called out, “Holy, holy holy is the Lord of hosts. The heaven is filled with his Glory.” They were so loud that the walls shook, the massive metal door of the Temple shook. And the smoke from the incense. The smoke filled the House of God.
Like Fresh Walnuts
Bottom line: As Scripture has three senses – literal, moral and spiritual – so our relation to God has three stages: the recognition of sin, repentance and savoring the mystery of God.
I’d like to begin with something that applies both to our overall study of the Bible and specifically to this Sunday’s readings. In one of his Wednesday audiences Pope Benedict spoke the three senses of Scripture:
First comes the “literal” sense, what the words actually mean. That is our starting point, but as the Holy Father points out, the literal sense “conceals depths that are not immediately apparent.” Beneath the literal sense is a “moral” sense – what we must do to live the Word. Finally, we come to “spiritual” sense – “the unity of Scripture which throughout its development speaks of Christ.”
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The readings today are all about vocation; the vocations of Isaiah, Paul and the Apostles. Each one of us has a vocation, a calling from the Lord. Each one of us is commissioned to be an Apostle of Christ in the world. Each one of us has been given the task of proclaiming the Good News.
The first step in this mission of ours is to be sure that we understand it, that we know what our mission is and to be sure that we comprehend the content of the message that we are being asked to communicate with others.
What St. Paul saw on the road to Damascus, and what mystics see
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
[Christ] appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, Christ appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once […] After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.
As St. Paul was traveling to Damascus in order to persecute the Church of Christ there, he experienced a most unique encounter with the Risen Jesus. As this event changed his own life, so too did it change both the Church and the world forever – since it was through St. Paul that God brought the Gospel to the nations.
Mary – the Ark of the Covenant
From the earliest times, the Church has believed and taught that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the fulfilment of the Ark of the Covenant. For example:
“…the Saviour appeared and showed His own body to the world, born of the Virgin, who was the Ark overlaid with pure gold, with the Word within and the Holy Spirit without; so that the truth is demonstrated, and the Ark made manifest.” – St. Hippolytus (d. 236AD), Second Fragment on Daniel, Chapter 6
“Arise, O Lord, into Your rest; You, and the Ark of Your Sanctuary. For the Holy Virgin is in truth the Ark, wrought with gold both within and without, that has received the whole treasury of the Sanctuary.” – St Gregory Thaumaturgus (d. 275AD), Homily On the Annunciation
Call to Prayer: Seven Resources for your Lenten Journey
One of the countless joys of the Church is the recurring open invitation to move deeper into the life of grace. These invitations come in a thousand ways, through the lives of the saints, through the sacraments and especially through our liturgical seasons. As Lent begins to rise on the horizon, we are again faced with another divine beckoning to move into a deeper relationship with Christ and His Church.
Lent, Ash Wednesday and getting ‘real’
Why is it that Ash Wednesday and Lent remain relatively popular even in highly secularized times like these? It’s a serious question that touches on matters deeper than might at first be supposed.
The popularity I speak of can be seen year after year on Ash Wednesday, when people – some of them perhaps not all that often in church – stream up the aisle to get their ashes. Not a few then return for Mass or Stations of the Cross on weekdays during Lent. How come?
Lent and Fasting From Meat on Fridays
Abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, milk products or condiments made of animal fat.
Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not forbidden. So it is permissible to use margarine and lard. Even bacon drippings which contain little bits of meat may be poured over lettuce as seasoning.
Lenten Rookie Mistakes
Apparently the number of “active Catholics” declined by 5% recently. I suspect that one reason for this is that, thanks in part to our suddenly more vocal bishops, at least 5% of Catholics have suddenly become aware of what it actually means to be an active Catholic — and have realized that they don’t actually want any part of that.
Either way, I feel like I can’t walk ten feet without bumping into an enthusiastic new convert, which is delightful, and so encouraging! Welcome, everybody! We papists have a little saying: Venite intus; horribilis est!
Heh. Anyway, you may be looking forward to your first Lent with enthusiasm but some trepidation. If so, you’re ahead of the game: it should be something to get excited about. Lent can be a wonderful source of grace. But as such, it can be a real mine field of screw-ups, especially for rookies. Here are some typical rookie mistakes during Lent:
The Virtue of Blind Obedience
St. Louis-Marie de Montfort writes in his True Devotion To the Blessed Virgin Mary, Nos. 106-110, that her ten principal virtues are: deep humility, lively faith, blind obedience, unceasing prayer, constant self-denial, surpassing purity, ardent love, heroic patience, angelic kindness, and heavenly wisdom. Nine of those are easy to understand as virtues, but blind obedience?
Sanctifying Gifts and Charismatic Gifts
Confirmation is ordered toward friendship with God and mission to the world.
Therefore, when you are confirmed, the Holy Spirit pours out on you two kinds of gifts — sanctifying and charismatic gifts — reflecting those twin purposes of God.
Sanctifying gifts are the gifts we get to keep. They make us into little Christs, creatures who participate in the life of the Blessed Trinity and share in the grace that makes us, in our own small ways, sons and daughters of God, filled with the Holy Spirit and conformed more and more to the life of Jesus.
Charismatic gifts are, in contrast, the gifts given to give away to others. They are given, not to build us up, but so that we might build up others and renew the face of the earth.
Setting the World Ablaze
‘Lukewarm Catholicism has no future; submitting to the transforming fire of the Holy Spirit is no longer optional,” George Weigel writes in his new book, Evangelical Catholicism. We live in a time when “religious faith, commitment to a religious community, and a religiously informed morality can no longer be taken for granted. . . . Evangelical Catholicism calls the entire Church to holiness for the sake of mission.” That mission involves the building up “of the community of the faithful not for the sake of the community but for the sake of a common reception of the mysteries of the faith, which in turn become the fonts of grace from which the community sets about the conversion of the world.
Love Perfects and Completes All: The Conclusion of St. Paul’s Great Treatise on Love
In the great treatise on Love of 1 Corinthians 13, St. Paul sets forth a symphony of sorts in three movements, wherein he describes the Theological Virtue of Love. Over the past two days we looked at the first two movements:
today we conclude with
Movement III – The PERFECTION and PERMANENCE of Love
Pope Benedict on God’s LovingCreation: ‘It Is Good to Be Human’
Even with modern scientific advances, it is still right to speak of the beginning of life as “creation” because the world’s origin is rational and motivated by love, Pope Benedict XVI said.
In today’s “age of science and technology,” the Pope asked, does it make sense to still speak of creation as Scripture does?
The Bible, he responded, “is not intended as a manual of the natural sciences; it wants to help us understand the authentic and profound truth of things. … So the Scripture tells us that the origin of the world, our origin is not irrational or out of necessity, but reason and love and freedom.”
7 Things: The Fall
Continuing our Year of Faith series “7 Things You Should Know About________,” here are 7 things you should know about the Fall:
1.The Hebrew word for serpent (nahash) can mean any long, slithery thing from a dragon to an earthworm. This explains why he’s usually understood as a snake in Genesis (3:1) but a dragon in Revelation (12:3). I wonder if we can take anything from that: while not changing from the evil nature he chose for himself, he did grow from something small into something large through the evil he caused in the world. Aside from that, here’s an amusing thought: What if the fruit of the Garden of Eve was an apple and Satan was the worm inside it?
From divorce to same-sex marriage: G.K. Chesterton’s prophetic defense of marriage
I have previously pointed out in this space that G.K. Chesterton prophetically defended marriage and the family as the foundational institution of our society against all the present attacks and degradations of it. I am now going to point it out again. With last year’s loss in Minnesota on a constitutional amendment defending marriage, and the hundreds of thousands supporting traditional marriage in France today, the importance of this topic is something that we cannot possibly emphasize too much. And when we have at our disposal Chesterton’s incisive articulation of the truth, we should pick up this sword and swing it.
Prayer for the Souls in Purgatory
Praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory–even referring to them that way, in fact–can seem like a quaint, old-fashioned, pre-Vatican II approach to Catholicism. It can feel like a made up sort of devotion, the kind of thing you tell your kids when they don’t know what to do with themselves.
Susan Tassone’s new book, Prayers, Promises, and Devotions for the Holy Souls in Purgatory (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012), though, the latest in a long line of books devoted to the topic of praying for the souls in Purgatory, has a feel of a book that’s been passed down. That doesn’t keep it from being relevant, though, and completely accessible to modern readers.
Tassone has approached the topic in a way that those who feel rather lost by the phrase “souls in Purgatory” will appreciate. She’s also assembled prayers and devotions that aren’t often seen together.