By Archbishop Philip Freier
3 March 2022
I hope that our journey through Lent this year will truly be undertaken in a spirit of pilgrimage which opens our minds and hearts to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. There is a well-documented “long COVID” cluster of physical symptoms that afflicts many people who have suffered from COVID infection. I suspect that there is a corresponding mental and likely spiritual phenomenon as well. We all know something of this when we experience apprehension about returning to the routines and places that were once so familiar, when we look to the future with uncertainty as to whether our plans will materialise. We may have simply become conditioned to the smaller world of our domestic spaces, and have become accustomed to the internet and other electronic means as our only window on the wider world.
Jesus’ own experience of the 40 days in the wilderness shows us the pattern for self-examination and a closer walking with God that we can make ours in the Lenten journey. Jesus relies on the revealed will of the Father to refute the temptations of the devil. We see in those temptations the subtlety of deception that we must all confront: the apparently virtuous aspect of a decision or action that is not in fact so.
We have access to the same spiritual resources that sustained our Lord over this long time of testing and self-examination. Intentionally reading the Bible with the matters of our heart and mind open before God is a good place for us to start. Times of quietness allow this clarity. When we start to go into that cycle of repeated thinking on our troubles it is good to stop and intentionally offer the matter in prayer to God. “God I’ve struggled in my own mind about these things, I now hand these over to you and rely on your grace to lead me to peace and rest from my worries.”
There is great value in taking a passage like Philippians 4:1-7 as a resource for Lenten contemplation. It deals with the unhappy discord between Euodia and Syntyche, and we all know how disturbing bad relationships are. Whatever is the source of our unease, Paul’s words to the Philippians give great assurance. He calls them to be a community that heals the discord, and the church at its heart must be a community like this. He reminds them that their names are all “in the book of life”.
Whether on account of conflict, self-doubt or spiritual long COVID, any of us can drift away from God’s presence. Paul’s response is to encourage confidence in where we stand with God, rejoicing before the Lord and exercising gentleness to others – all things that don’t easily emerge out of our troubles. That is why we need to be intentional and receive the ancient wisdom of the season of Lent in the Church’s year as a gift to be received.
“Lord God almighty, grant to your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”