Lent is our time to be with Jesus in the desert, where He, in His humanity, experienced weakness, hunger and temptation. Jesus entered fully into our humanity and was like us in all things except sin. This is the unique mystery of the Incarnation, where our God suffers as one of us.
Jesus can identify with each of us in our hunger, and we can identify with Him in His hunger. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (CCC 540). Jesus’ fasting was a preparation for His public ministry and His Passion and death.
Lent is similarly a preparation for us, readying us for Good Friday and Easter, but it is also a stark reminder of our own mortality. On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, we place ashes on our foreheads to remind ourselves that we too, one day, will die. We face our mortality, saying “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen.3:19).
Yet, is not each day and night a microcosm of our entire life? Our sleep anticipates our death, and our waking in the morning anticipates our resurrection. If we will seek pardon and forgiveness at the end of life, in anticipation of the final judgment, should we not also seek to examine our lives and ask for forgiveness each and every day?
After all, we do not know when our end will come. It may be fifty years from now, or fifty minutes from now. As Jesus cautions us in the parable of the faithful servant, the end may come for us at an hour we do not expect, so we must be like the faithful servant, always vigilant and ready.
How do we remain vigilant and ready? Of course, we must remain faithful servants, obedient to the Church, live closely to the sacraments, have an active prayer life, read the word of God, and live a life filled with good and merciful deeds. In short, we must love God and our neighbor. All of these activities contribute to our having a well-formed moral conscience. The more we examine our lives and seek forgiveness, particularly in Confession, the more clearly we will know right from wrong, that is, have a “correct” moral conscience.
The Catechism teaches us that God’s law is inscribed on every man’s heart, and His voice echoes in the depths of our consciences (CCC 1776). Before we go to sleep each night, we can examine in our minds the events of the day, everything that we said or did, or failed to do, for good or for bad. After having examined our whole day, from beginning to end, and asking forgiveness for our sins, we should pray an act of contrition.
Indeed, the act of examining our consciences is part of the nightly prayer, Compline, from the Liturgy of the Hours, in which we consecrate to God the phases of the day. More than a simple private devotion, it is said as a form of prayer in unity with the broader body of believers. Thus, by examining our consciences we are also coming together with the universal Church every day in liturgical, public worship. At the end of which, we pray, “May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.”
Lent is our time in the desert with Jesus. In it, we hunger for righteousness and holiness. But, unlike Jesus, we are not perfect and fall regularly in sin. By examining our consciences each night to see where we fell, and ask forgiveness in our hearts, we can strive to be like the faithful servant, prepared always for the moment when our bodies return to dust and our souls appear before the judgment seat of the Lord. So then, after our sojourn in this earthly wilderness, we can hope to awaken to eternal life in heaven.