Homily for February 22, 2015: 1st Sunday of Lent: Deacon Steve Whiteman

First Sunday of Lent

February 22, 2015

Reading 1 Gn 9:8-15

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

R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.

Reading 2 1 Pt 3:18-22

Gospel Mk 1:12-15


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Lenten Relationships

In the first reading from Genesis we hear about God’s covenant with Noah and his family. After they survived the flood, God promises to never again destroy the world with water. As a permanent sign of this covenant, God placed the rainbow in the sky. Whenever we see a rainbow in the sky after a big storm, we are reminded of God’s promise. This covenant promise, along with several others in the Bible, is the story of God’s love for us and His desire to be in a relationship with us. He has always had a plan to save us from our sins and these covenant relationships are part of His plan:

1. We heard about Noah and the rainbow

2. God’s sign for the covenant with Abraham was circumcision

3. God’s sign for the covenant with Moses was the Passover

4. God’s sign for the covenant with David was his royal throne and finally

5. God’s sign for the covenant with Jesus and all of us is the Eucharist we celebrate at every Mass.

These are past and present signs of God’s relationships with us and our ancestors. It’s up to us to accept these signs of God’s love and do our part to build that relationship.

As it turns out, Lent is a great time to focus on our relationship with God. These 40 days before Easter can be a rewarding time in our spiritual life. We traditionally focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving during this time of preparation, but these are not meant to be meaningless sacrifices. One comparison I’ve heard is that the season of Lent is like cleaning your house. By focusing on prayer, fasting, almsgiving and the Sacraments we clean up the clutter in our lives and make more room in our hearts for God. By doing this, we lesson our dependence on material things which then free us to render ourselves to God. When we take on these self-sacrifices we better understand our dependence on God, become more fully alive in Christ and become signs of His love for people around us.

If you are still trying to decide what to give up for Lent, try thinking about this season as a journey…a journey of love. We can ask ourselves: what is preventing us from loving more fully? Are there things like overwork, excessive worry, pride or resentments that are hurting our relationships? Can we find a way to give them up or at least reduce their influence in our lives? Can we try to find more loving substitutes to take their place? We could spend more quality time with family and friends, read the Bible, go to Adoration and try to focus more on the positive parts of our life. We can ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our Lenten journey and strengthen our relationships with God and those around us.

In the Witness last week, Archbishop Jackels had some good suggestions for our Lenten journey. He mentioned that depriving ourselves of some comforts during Lent can help provide comfort to others that may be more in need. Making sacrifices helps us to better understand that material things in our life should not be the source of our happiness. True peace and joy come from a loving relationship with God. He also made the point that being disciplined during Lent makes it easier for us to say “no” to other temptations in our life.

It’s impossible to escape temptation in this life but we have to think about it the right way. God does not allow temptation to make us fall into sin but it’s an opportunity to resist, overcome and strengthen our heart, mind and soul. If we survive temptation we emerge as a stronger Christian. If we fall, God is always there to pick us up and dust us off in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and give us another chance. God will not give us a challenge that is beyond our ability. In the first chapter of James we are told: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

In the Gospel today, we hear that Jesus spent 40 days in the desert dealing with temptations. He faced these temptations from satan head on. Of course He was victorious in his trial and went on to conquer death with His Resurrection. We can learn from His example of prayer and perseverance and take comfort in the fact that we also have guardian angels to help us with our challenges each day.

I often find myself distracted in prayer and Lent can make that more of a challenge. If you have a similar challenge, we can learn from St. Teresa of Avila. She was a Carmelite nun who lived in Spain in the 16th century and is a Doctor of the Church. She was known for her mystical prayer experiences that sometimes caused her body to levitate. Even though she had this spiritual gift, she was also greatly distracted during prayer. She said her thoughts were so wild sometimes that trying to pray was like tying up a frantic madman. For many years she hardly prayed at all but eventually a priest convinced her to try again. She still found it difficult but her experience gives us a wonderful description of prayer: she said “prayer…is an intimate sharing between friends that requires taking time to be alone with God. The important thing is not to think much, but to love much.”

St. Teresa left us many gifts in her writings but there is one poem attributed to her that can help us understand our relationship with God and each other. You may have heard it put to music by John Michael Talbot:

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours.

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world.

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours.