There's just something about 40! I remember when I was turning 40 and was aghast. I thought, man you are really getting old. Now that I'm approaching 60, I can only smile and recall how silly I was.
Maybe somebody at this very Mass is turning 40 or has recently turned 40. Take it from me; it's all good!
Think about how long 40 is in terms of years or even days. 40 years ago would be 1976; Gerald Ford was President, disco was the big craze and the New Orleans Saints had yet to experience a winning season. 40 days ago was the earliest days of the New Year.
As people of faith it's time to embrace these 40 days of Lent!
Let's take a look at Lent for a moment. Lent began on ash Wednesday and concludes at the evening celebration of the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday. If you count the days, that totals 46. Now the Church does not include the 6 Sundays of Lent in the 40 days because Sunday's are not penitential days. Sundays are designated as days of celebration and commemoration of the Resurrection so they are not counted in the 40 days of Lent.
Why 40? The number 40 is huge in the story of salvation history. In Genesis and the time of Noah and the Ark, God sent rain for 40 days and 40 nights. In Exodus, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt yet they wandered in the desert for 40 years. In today's Gospel, St. Luke tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit to the desert for 40 days to be tempted. Tradition tells us that the body of Jesus laid in the tomb for 40 hours before the Resurrection. Mentioned 146 times in the Bible, the number 40 is always associated with times of trial, testing and great temptation leading to victory and greater glory!
Jesus indeed was tempted by the devil in today's Gospel. He overcame every temptation the devil threw at Him so we can say that Jesus redeemed temptation. This means that even now, our own temptations can give glory to God. We too can overcome the temptations of the devil but not falling into despair but to see these temptations as an opportunity to exercise our love and mercy. Because of the example of Jesus, we too can defeat every temptation the devil hurls at us!
In Lent, we remember the three pillars of this Lenten season: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In these 40 days, God may be calling us to deeper prayer: daily mass, daily prayerful devotions, reading Scripture daily, praying the rosary. We may be called to return to reconciliation and receive God's mercy in this Jubilee of Mercy. We are strongly encouraged to attend Stations of the Cross, every Friday evening during Lent. We also are called to be present at our only 1st Friday in Lent, when we have day long Adoration with evening Benediction. This will happen on March 4th. Finally, we are all strongly encouraged to plan now to attend our parish mission, February 29th thru March 3rd. Attending a parish mission has long been considered a very worthy devotion for the faithful to participate in during Lent!
We may also be called to fast during Lent beyond the normal prescriptions for abstinence and fasting on Good Friday. We could add a day every week in Lent that we fast, withholding a meal so to focus more on prayer and penance. Fasting is more than giving up food, it truly is a powerful prayer that moves us closer to God.
In giving alms we acknowledge already that we are a generous people. Lent calls all of us to give more. Perhaps you will be moved to make a financial contribution or donation but our gifts of time and talent are equally valuable. Giving of ourselves for others is a very charitable thing to do!
Yes, Lent is 40 days of prayer, fasting and alms giving while defeating the devil and overcoming all his wicked temptations!
Allow me to mention also that on this St. Valentine Day, the Church celebrates World Marriage Sunday. We ask God to continue to pour out His blessings on the Sacramental union of one man and one woman in Holy Matrimony! Marriage is a Sacrament, a sacrament of service ordered to the good of the other. The graces of this Sacrament help us to help our spouse both in this life and on their journey to eternal life. May God bless each and every marriage represented here today and may we always honor marriage as God always intended it to be! Amen!