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  • Writer's pictureFr. Satish Joseph

Shaped by God’s Love: A Vision for Lent 2024

Updated: Feb 14

Lent always raises a few all-familiar questions, “What are you doing for Lent?” or, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Answers to questions like these often indicate a Lent that is primarily driven by us. We plan our Lent, we plan our penances, we navigate the obstacles, and we determine the end result.


This Lent I am inviting you to ask a different set of questions. The invitation is based on the letter Pope Francis published for Lent 2024. It is titled, “Through the Desert God Leads us to Freedom.”


Pope Francis begins his letter by saying, “When our God reveals himself, his message is always one of freedom.” He begins by making reference to God’s greatest Old Testament self-revelation to Moses and the Israelites on Mount Sinai – the Ten Commandments. This revelation was followed by a forty-year-journey through the desert.


Pope Francis calls the Ten Commandments the “Ten Words.” He clarifies right away by adding, “We call them “commandments” in order to emphasize the strength of the love by which God shapes his people.” In other words, the “Ten Words” or the Ten Commandments are not meant to restrict us or diminish our freedom. Rather, the Ten Commandments shape us. They shape us and free us to love God and love our neighbor in a way that puts us on “a thoroughfare to freedom.” In other words, the journey to freedom is the love by which God shapes his people.


To be willing to be shaped by God is not a one-time event. It is a journey - a journey through the desert. After all, Lent recalls the 40 years that Israel journeyed through the desert after they received the “Ten Words”. More significantly, Lent recalls Jesus’ forty-day journey into the desert. Jesus ventured into the desert to enter into a deeper intimacy with his Father even as he prepared to begin his ministry of human redemption. As Pope Francis suggests, “Lent is a season of grace in which the desert can become once more… the place of our first love (cf. Hos 2:16-17). God shapes his people. God enables us to leave our slavery behind and experience a Passover from death to life. Like a bridegroom, the Lord draws us once more to himself, whispering words of love to our hearts.”


In light of divine revelation on Mount Sinai and in light of Pope Francis’ words, the question I invite us to ask ourselves this Lent is, “Am I willing to be shaped by God?” Unlike a Lent guided by the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?”, a Lent guided by the question “Am I willing to be shaped by God?” will not be a Lent driven by us, but rather, by God.


Pope Francis is realistic when he proposes the idea of “being shaped by God”. He says, “Just as Israel in the desert still clung to Egypt – often longing for the past and grumbling against the Lord and Moses – today too, God’s people can cling to an oppressive bondage that it is called to leave behind.”

So that we may not repeat Israel’s mistakes, Pope Francis suggests that we ask two questions this Lent: “Where are you?” and “Where is your brother?” He says, “Our Lenten journey will be concrete if, by listening once more to those two questions, we realize that even today we remain under the rule of Pharaoh; a rule that makes us weary and indifferent.”


To make his point clearer, Pope Francis contrasts Pharoah with God and Jesus. “Pharaoh stifles dreams, blocks the view of heaven, makes it appear that this world, in which human dignity is trampled upon and authentic bonds are denied, can never change.” But there is something more dangerous than Pharoah’s bondage – the bondage that is created by our own selves. As Pope Francis says: “Even more to be feared than Pharaoh are the idols that we set up for ourselves… to be all-powerful, to be looked up to by all, to domineer over others. We can become attached to money, to certain projects, ideas or goals, to our position, to a tradition, even to certain individuals. Instead of making us move forward, they paralyze us.” In other words, we can become our own pharaohs. The two questions, “Where are you?” and “Where is your brother?” broadens our horizon to observe Lent and live life not imprisoned by our own vision for ourselves but God’s vision for humanity.


God and Jesus are unlike Pharaoh. As Pope Francis observes “God does not want subjects, but son and daughters.” Moreover, “Jesus enters the desert and stands before us and with us as the incarnate Son.” In other words, Jesus’ forty days in the desert teaches us what it means to be shaped by God. In the desert Jesus rejected the luring of the idols that leads humanity into bondage. He responded to each of the Devil’s three temptations with God’s word, with the “Ten Words” and set himself on the thoroughfare to freedom. In the desert, Jesus allowed himself and his redemptive ministry to be shaped by God’s immense love.


I want to return to the two question that Pope Francis suggests that we should ask: “Where are you?” and “Where is your brother?” Pope Francis answers these questions by focusing on prayer, almsgiving and fasting. “Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting,” he says, “are not three unrelated acts, but a single movement of openness and self-emptying, in which we cast out the idols that weigh us down, the attachments that imprison us.” Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, like the “Ten Words” are “thoroughfares to freedom.” Through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, “we become brothers and sisters, more sensitive to one another: in place of threats and enemies, we discover companions and fellow travelers. This is God’s dream, the promised land to which we journey once we have left our slavery behind.” This is the meaning of allowing God to shape us.  


Lent 2024 is an invitation to allow God, as Pope Francis says, “to whisper words of love into our hearts.” It is an invitation to be shaped by love of God who now reveals himself to us on the Cross. I am proposing that the questions that guide us through Lent 2024 are: “Am I willing to be shaped by God?” “Where are you?” and “Where is your brother/sister?”

  • Fr. Satish Joseph

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