Piri Thomas wrote a book called “Down These Mean Streets”. It describes his conversion from being a convict, a drug addict, and an attempted killer to becoming an exemplary Christian.
One night Piri was lying on his cell bunk in prison. Suddenly it occurred to him what a mess he had made of his life. He felt an overwhelming desire to pray. But he was sharing the cell with another prisoner called “the thin kid”. So he waited.
After he thought “the thin kid” was asleep, he climbed out of his bunk, knelt down on the cold concrete, and prayed. He said: “I told God what was in my heart… I talked to him plain… no big words… I talked to him of my wants and lacks, of my hopes and disappointment… I felt like I could even cry… something I hadn’t been able to do for years.” After Piri finished his prayer, a small voice said, “Amen.” It was “the thin kid.” “There we were”, Piri said, “he lying down, head on bended elbows, and I still on my knees. No one spoke for a long while. Then the kid whispered, ‘I believe in Dios also.”
The two young men talked for a long time. Then Piri climbed back into his bunk. “Good night, Chico,” he said. “I’m thinking that God is always with us-it is just that we aren’t with him.”
We see in the Gospel that Jesus spent forty days in the desert, and Satan tempted him. The number forty is a very significant number in the Bible. It took 40 days for sinfulness to drown in the flood before a new creation could inherit the earth. It took 40 years for the generation of slaves to die before the freeborn could enter the Promised Land. For 40 days Moses, Elijah, and Jesus fasted and prayed to prepare themselves for their life's work. We read in the Gospel for this weekend that Jesus fasted and prayed for forty nights and days in the desert before his public ministry.
Then Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee, inviting people to repentance: repent and believe in the Gospel. Repentance leads us to reorder our priorities and change our values, ideals, and ambitions, with the help of fasting, prayer, and mortification. In the first reading the merciful God selected Noah and his family to renew the covenant. Noah’s rescue from the flood symbolizes how we are saved through the water of Baptism which cleanses us of sin and makes us one with Christ. God signs the new covenant with Noah with a beautiful rainbow.
During Lent, it is a good idea to pay more attention than usual to the crucifix. Christ's wounds show us images of sin, tell us what sin does to ourselves, the world, and our relationship with God. The cross also shows us the intensity of his love for us. Let his love purify us in this season of Lent.