February 18, 2018 First Sunday of Lent Fr Jim Miller

First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 GN 9:8-15

 Responsorial Psalm PS 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9.

  1. (cf. 10) Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.

Reading 2 1 PT 3:18-22

Verse Before The Gospel MT 4:4B

One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

Gospel  MK 1:12-15

Homily—February 17 & 18, 2018  First Sunday of Lent


            We begin with a reading from the Book of Genesis that reminds us of Noah and his surviving the flood.  God was so pleased that Noah had maintained his faith throughout the flood that God made an everlasting covenant with Noah and his offspring.  Walter Bruggemann wrote that “the covenant God makes with Noah, his family and the creatures, is God’s promise that divine wrath will never destroy creation as a result of human sin.  That doesn’t mean that human sinfulness will not bring chaos to the world—even on a cosmic scale.  Humanity is daily becoming more capable of that.  The covenant, the promise God gave Noah, is that God will not destroy creation, that there is no one-to-one correspondence between human evil and divine punishment.  The rainbow that appeared after storms was a sign of God’s love for Noah and for any who lived like him in faith.  I love to see rainbows and remember God’s promise of a covenant with all of us.  It is the sign that God will never be humanity’s adversary.

            This weekend’s gospel states “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert”.   The desert is a place of testing where all the usual signs of God’s presence are absent; it is where a person must seek God in the midst of adversity rather than blessing.  There are four “powers” present in this story with Jesus:  The Spirit who drove him there, Satan who put him to the test, the wild beasts who threatened him, and the angels who ministered to him.  Particularly during Lent, we allow the Spirit to drive us into 40 days of fasting, intensified prayer and almsgiving.  We should expect to confront temptation as Jesus did.  We, too, will face dangers; but we can also count on the ministry of angels, provided that we trust God.  Saint John Chrysostom wrote :  “The Spirit drags Jesus into the desert, since he wanted to draw the devil there; and Jesus gave occasion to him not only on account of his hunger but also on account of the place:  for then most especially does the devil attack, when he sees people isolated and by themselves.”  When we feel attacked by the evil one we can recall this prayer.  “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side to light and guard to rule and guide. Amen.”

            Each year we enter the Lenten “desert” to voluntarily strip away the distractions, the excuses and the rationalizations that so quickly (and repeatedly) can lead us into comfortable complacency.  With God’s Spirit strengthening us, we find the courage to honestly ask whether we are becoming the disciples that we are called to be.  Even if nobody witnesses our sins, and not a soul knows of them, we cannot hide the truth from the eyes of our conscience.  In the end, what is important is not that other people know, but that we ourselves know.

            Through Christ, God offers a covenant of love to all people; but to experience the love, a person must respond in faith.  Maintaining faith in times of distress is not easy.  It did not come naturally to Noah and his family and it does not come easily today.

            Today Jesus urges repentance as a first step toward faith.  As Pope Francis recently reminded his listeners, “only those who recognize their sins and ask forgiveness can receive the understanding and forgiveness of others.”  It is pointless to seek reconciliation with someone we have wronged if we refuse first to change.  Moreover it is only through our own repentance that we can learn to recognize and trust the true repentance of others.  A person who has never sought forgiveness has little understanding of how to forgive another.  Only when we know the true vulnerability and relief that comes from righting our own wrongs will we be sensitive to the same movements in others.  Repentance for our sins strengthens our compassion for others.

            Repentance also teaches us to trust the love of others.  Asking forgiveness is an intimidating task, but when we do it properly, it can deepen the bonds of love.  This is probably why Jesus counsels us to repent first, then believe.  What we learn from trusting the love of others we can apply to our faith in the love of God.  We can, like Noah and his family and like the returned exiles, keep our faith in God alive even when it is difficult.

            Lent has begun, and with it comes an opportunity to increase our faith through works of penance.  Every time we set right some wrong we have done, we come that much closer to the faith of Jesus, who found signs of the Father’s love in everything he saw with his eyes.

            One of the wonderful tools you can use during Lent is the Rice Bowl.   Set it on your table and feed it as part of your almsgiving.  There is a Lenten calendar with it and a recipe from a different poor country each week.  You may or may not want to try the recipe so as to eat what the poor eat.  The Lenten Prayer on the Rice Bowl is:  God of the Journey, whenever we stumble on life’s roads, you are with us.  Your love enables us to get back up and start again.  May our Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving be an encounter with your mercy.  May our experience of your selfless love inspire us to ‘go and do likewise,’ becoming companions for our neighbors most in need, and for every member of your human family.  Amen.