Steven Spielberg's 1982 motion picture classic “E.T.--The Extra Terrestrial” captured the hearts and minds of moviegoers around the world with its combination of comedy, drama, and tragedy. The plot of the film described E.T.'s quest to “go home” and was framed in the context of the relationship between the visitor from space and his human friend Elliot. E.T., who was left behind accidentally when his spaceship was forced to flee from human intrusion, is lost in a world which cannot understand or accept his presence. E.T. knows he will die if he remains in the earth's environment and thus the urgency for him to “phone home” is great. At the end of the movie, when his friends return to earth to retrieve him, there is a sense of triumph that he has met the challenge and now can return home, to a place which will welcome him and in which he can grow to new heights.
E.T.'s trial on earth and his need and desire to go home parallels in many ways the annual opportunity which all Christians can experience during the season of Lent. In her wisdom the Church provides this period of preparation so that we can search our hearts for ways to better prepare ourselves for our ultimate return to the One who made us and fashioned us in God's image. Our preparation during the Lenten season is ostensibly oriented toward the Paschal Triduum where we celebrate the Passion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord, but a broader view shows that this season is a gift which allows special opportunities in our daily life to prepare for our return home to God. Sometimes, like E.T., our communication link with our heavenly home is cut or functions poorly, through lack of use or other problems. Lent is our time to retune our communication system so that we can, as the song from the popular musical Godspell says, “see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”
This season of grace and preparation is an important time for the Church, the people of God. This forty-day period, which recalls Jesus’ forty days in the desert as He prepared for his public ministry, is an opportunity to renew ourselves in many ways. Traditionally Christians consider denying themselves something that they enjoy, as a sign of their commitment to that renewal. One might also consider doing something extra, something we don’t normally do, such as reading the Scriptures each day, making a special effort to pray every day, or to use some form of prayer that do not usually try. We might consider spending some of our valuable time, possibly the greatest commodity we have these days, and using it to serve those who are less fortunate.
Lent is a time for us to prepare for the greatest events in human history, the Paschal Mystery, the Passion, death and Resurrection of Christ. Most would like to avoid the Good Friday scene and go directly to the “main event,” Easter. This, however, is not possible. We must pass through the agony of the Cross in order to understand and fully appreciate the glory of the Resurrection.
Let us, therefore, with courage enter into this great season of grace. Let us collectively pray for our world which totters on the brink of war and let us also work as individuals and community to bring the face of Christ to the daily situations of our life. The six and one-half weeks we spend of this journey will be filled with many blessings. Let us open our hearts and minds, beginning on Ash Wednesday and continue our openness to Holy Week and Easter.
Fr. Richard Gribble, CSC, is a professor in the Religious Studies department at Stonehill College, with a special interest in 20th Century American Catholicism. In addition to his teaching and ministry, Fr. Rick is the author of an authoritative biography of Servant of God Bishop Vincent McCauley, and another Servant of God Fr. Patrick Peyton.