26Feb 26 February. First Sunday of Lent

Gen 9:8-15. After the flood God made a new agreement (covenant) with Noah and his descendants. The rainbow is a lovely sign of God’s reliable friendship towards us.

1 Pet 3:18-22. St. Peter sees the waters of the flood of Noah’s time as a reminder of the waters of Baptism by which we are saved from sin.

Mk 1:12-15. After being baptised by John the Baptist Jesus spends forty days in the desert. Then he begins to spread his Gospel message.

As we recall Christ’s victory over temptation in the desert, it is a good time for us to confront temptation in our own lives and pray for discernment between good and evil.

Lenten Thoughts (Patrick Rogers)

Today’s readings offer at least three topics to think about:

1) Lent, as a time of penance
2) Lent as a time for practical charity
3) Lent and respecting creation.

1) Some may wish to propose works of prayer and penance at the outset of Lent. They will want to present the meaning of penance as renewal, as getting to the spiritual roots of our being, rather than calling for feats of endurance during the seven weeks. The Gospel ideal of penance invites a re-think of our outlook on life, so that we can turn aside from our selfishness and our sins. Penance has too often been preached as endurance, and therefore as a challenge to the macho spirit of achievement. It could better be shown as a desire to limit or root out the roots of our sin, especially whatever blocks our love for our neighbour.

2) A good approach to Lent is to let it prompt us to a more active charity in our lives. This is in line with Pope Benedict’s message to the Church, for this Lent of 2012, “The Lenten season offers us once again an opportunity to reflect upon the very heart of Christian life: charity. This is a favourable time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments. This journey is one marked by prayer and sharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter.” The Holy Father draws on the inspiring text of Heb 10:24 – “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works;” – a call closely linked to our trust in Jesus Christ as the High Priest who has won us forgiveness and opened up a pathway to God. (Click here for the full papal message)

3) Personal closeness to God means living and choosing in harmony with Him who is the Creator of all reality. Tuning in to God involves respecting all created things, seeing them in their full goodness, neither to be exploited to extinction nor worshipped as ends in themselves. The goodness of our created world is nicely expressed in the first reading. Part of our Christian faith today is to appreciate our natural environment. Thinking about what this asks of us should be a part of our Lenten repentance. We need to broaden our moral sense to include environmental responsibility, avoidance of pollution, conservation of non-renewable energy sources, finding alternatives to disastrous deforestation, wide use of pesticides and the exploitation of the economically powerless peoples of the Third World. A quick reading of Sean McDonagh’s fine book, To Care for the Earth suggests many things that need to be changed: a wholesome Lenten reflection.

Children Of The Desert (Liam Swords)

Some years ago I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. For two weeks I followed with the other pilgrims in the footsteps of Christ. We visited Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem. We climbed the Mount of Beatitudes and Mount Tabor where he was transfigured. I swam in the Sea of Galilee and even in the Dead Sea (which was not a pleasant experience). I walked from Jerusalem to Jericho, looked into Jacob’s Well, stood on the site in Cana where Jesus changed the water into wine and climbed Calvary where he was crucified. Everywhere we went, we took our gospel with us and read the appropriate passage. It was a moving experience. I still have vivid memories of it all. But the strongest impression I have retained is that of the desert where Christ spent forty days before starting his public life. Of the two weeks, we spent a day and a night in the desert.

It is not surprising that the three great world religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, were all born in the desert. It was through the desert that Moses led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. It was from that desert that John the Baptist came to herald the Messiah and soon after Jesus followed to proclaim himself Messiah. After my visit there, I came to realise the significance of the desert. The desert is a purgatory man must pass through to reach paradise. What is impressive about the desert is its sheer aridness. There is no vegetation, no bird life and, apart from the odd tiny lizard, almost no animals.

The silence is almost total. In that bleak landscape, nothing comes between man and his God. One either discovers God or succumbs to despair. It is no wonder that those Bedouins who ply the salt trade following their caravans across the desert are deeply religious. No life thrives here except the inner life. It is not surprising that it was the Desert Fathers who created that great institution dedicated to fostering the inner life, Western monasticism. It has so profoundly marked Christianity that we are all now, in a sense, children of the desert.

Living now as many of us do, in built-up areas, piled high on top of each other in high-rise apartments, bombarded day and night with the roar of city traffic and the blare of electronic music, we are in danger of losing our desert roots. And with that our inner life. We need to create a time and a space to nurture our spiritual lives. Lent is such a time. The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days. Like Jesus, we should let the Holy Spirit lead us out into the desert this Lent where we can confront the devils that haunt our lives, and like him too, triumph over them. That is the freedom, dignity, and gift that is offered in today’s gospel.

True Penance (John Walsh)

About forty years ago there began a movement away from popular devotions, a movement even more widespread among the clergy and religious than among the laity. “We ought to be more liturgical in our worship,” it was maintained, and practices like Benediction were quietly dropped on a wide scale. “We should be more scriptural in our prayer life,” we were urged, and out went devotions like the public recitation of the Rosary. But we have seen a partial return to these traditional ways of bringing God into our lives, perhaps because the human spirit needs popular devotions. I wonder if we are going through the same “yes-no” approach to Lenten penitential exercises.

To turn our backs on the practice of self-imposed penance would be to cast aside a Christian tradition rooted in the example of Christ himself, from his prayer to the Father, which sometimes continued throughout the night, and the intense way he prepared for the important events of his life, such as beginning his public ministry with forty days of fasting in the wilderness, as told in today’s gospel. In this isolated spot, somewhere near the Dead Sea, Jesus came face to face with evil personified (in Satan, the enemy of mankind.) He was really tempted to turn aside from the path which God had mapped out for him, at the end of which would be a resurrection into glory, but not without the terrible agony of Calvary.

By prayer Jesus got the strength never at any moment to waver from the demands made upon him. However, during his ministry Jesus did not practice those strict penances which featured in the lives of so many saints. Indeed, his enemies proclaimed him a glutton and a drunkard (Mt 11:19) when, as he joined at many a dinner table as an invited guest. But if we weigh his actions in the light of a dedicated life, which is the purpose of all self-denial, then we see how Jesus had attained that spiritual goal from the outset. What took place during his fast of forty days in the desert is confirmation of this.

Of course temptations did occur to him, as they would come again later, urging him to take pride in his achievements, seek his own glory, ride along on the tide of popular acclaim. But Jesus set his face firmly against all this, and chose the road his Father wanted him to travel. He could even say, “My aim is not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (Jn 5:3). “It is the Father living in me, who is doing this work” (14:10). And when open-minded people encountered him, they admired his total devotion to healing the sick (Mark 7:37).

The devil tried to divert Jesus from setting out on that course which would ensure our salvation. He failed in this during the fasting in the desert, but would renew his attack more viciously in the garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary, at the end of Christ’s mission on earth. Our Lord’s victory at the end was even more emphatic, and is a call to us – to triumph with him over the power of sin. By baptism we have become sharers in his victory, but we must make our own contribution to this, especially by prayer and some kind of fasting. Our aim during Lent, and throughout our whole lives, should be to do God’s will as revealed to us by the Spirit; have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, and in so far as in us lies, to do all things well, as Jesus has shown us.

First Reading: Book of Genesis 9:8-15

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

Second Reading: First Letter of Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Gospel: Mark 1:12-15

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”