Board games enjoyed great popularity among the members of my generation and even earlier ones. Playing Risk, Life, Monopoly, Clue or Aggravation was a satisfying way to pass the time and afforded an opportunity for social interaction.

In many board games, the objective is to be the first player to cross the finish line. But, as you move your token on the board, you are likely to confront many obstacles that impede your progress.

A cast of the dice may leave you at a disadvantage you may not be able to overcome. You may be penalized and told "not to pass go," to "go to jail," to "lose a turn," to "retreat three spaces on the board" or to relinquish some of your funds.

The traps laid out are many, but the satisfaction of being the first to cross the finish line is well worth the effort. On Ash Wednesday, we began a new Lenten journey of 40 days, a period of time set aside by the Church for spiritual renewal and the conversion of the heart to God. "Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God" (Jl 2:13), cries the prophet Joel in the first reading for the Mass on Ash Wednesday.

The return to God through the annual pilgrimage of Lent passes through the mystery of the cross, following Christ to Calvary. There can be no shortcuts, no detours.

The cross remains a major stumbling block, an intimidating obstacle, for many in our secular world. But, for the person of faith, the journey leads toward the joy of Easter, to the victory of life over death.

In Scripture, the number 40 has a mystical significance, recalling key events that marked the life and history of ancient Israel: Noah and the 40-day flood; the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai, which were followed by the gift of the tablets of the law (the 10 Commandments); the 40-day walk of the prophet Elijah to Horeb, the mountain of God; and the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, praying and fasting, before undertaking His public mission.

Israel's 40 days in the desert were marked by testing and unforeseen obstacles. The Bible depicts those years as a time of extreme danger and temptation, a time when Israel murmured against its God, when the people were dissatisfied with God and wanted to return to paganism.

Retired Pope Benedict XVI asks, "Is this not a description of our own time?"

As a reward for their perseverance and patience, the Israelites eventually entered the promised land.

Christians begin the season of Lent in the desert and end their journey in a garden: the garden of our Lord's resurrection. On the journey, we, too, face many obstacles, hurdles and even booby-traps set by the evil one, the invisible enemy of the people of God.

Let us remember that Christ Himself was the first to "walk the walk." Crossing the finish line is made possible by Christ, "the way, the truth and the life."

Let's rid ourselves of "excess baggage," so that our journey is less of a burden and a more joyful experience of living the faith. Let's leave behind all traces of selfishness and make room for God, who opens and transforms our hearts.

(Father Yanas is pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Troy.)