By: Jesus Pablo Saldivar Castillon, seminarian (Theology, 1st year)
The Church has understood Jesus mandate to “watch and pray” (Crf. Luke 21;36), as an important precept that keeps us vigilant and awaiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God; and the Holy Liturgy guides this waiting through times or seasons that help us, firstly, to join Christ in his salvific ministry and, secondly, to live in a personal and communitarian way the history of salvation where God becomes present, participating in our history, positively impinging upon our lives, if we allow him to do so.
And it is exactly in this freedom and desire to allow God to be a part of our lives (which is indeed necessary) that in the Liturgical Time of Lent the Church makes a short pause to reflect on the role God plays in our lives; this is the ideal time for the penitential practice of the Church (Cfr. CEC 1438).
Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, and Easter elicits the joy of knowing we have been saved by Jesus, but it also calls for a new life in Christ, a life given unto us by the merits of He who was crucified, dead and then returned to life. To achieve this, faithful Christians prepare themselves for forty days, in a form of personal desert that, in imitation of Jesus, is intended to drive us towards a firm purpose of conversion and to the growth and permanence of grace in us.
In order to achieve this, our Holy Mother Church encourages parish priests (as prescribed by their bishops) to organize “Spiritual Exercises” (Cfr. CIC 770) that act as pedagogical moments to intensify the listening of the Word and Prayer (SC 109); and in line with this, Monterrey Seminary, as a member of the local church, participates by sending in seminarians and deacons to parish communities to provide assistance in preparing the faithful to live and celebrate the Easter Mystery.
The experience that Lent Exercises in a Parish offer for us, the seminarians, exceed by far any measurable value. Not just because they allow us to be with the People of God – which we are being prepared to serve – and we gradually learn to love them in the way of Jesus, getting to know their reality, but also because our own reflection around Lent and conversion makes us realize that the talks and catechesis we prepare for the communities are also for us (in fact, they are probably addressed ourselves in the first place). The fact of sharing with the community what God has done for us, and our grateful response to Him, allows us – as consecrated fruits – to gradually configure our heart to the way of Christ our Good Shepherd and Husband of the Church.
Lent Exercises in a Parish also involve an important challenge for seminarians who, while going on with their usual activities, break away from their afternoon routine to attend a parish or the community for one week and make contributions to it, bringing the joy of Gospel and Church doctrine. The challenge is to live what we preach: it we talk about charity, we must not fall short of it; if we preach about forgiveness, we must give it abundantly; if we talk about conversion, it is because, we all are on the road and we’ll meet some day. This definitely is not an easy task! But we are certain that God helps us and his grace encourages us to live everything Christ invites us to do through our consciousness; and reflection and penitential practices help us grow in these virtues that we need in order to be good and holy priests. And although conversion is not just a forty-day challenge, but a life-long pursue, to sum it up, the main challenge is the seed of testimony we sow wherever we go.