LENT I SUNDAY Gn 9:8-15; I Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15
The primary purpose of Lent is spiritual preparation for the celebration recalling Jesus’ death on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The Church tries to achieve this goal by leading her children to “repentance.” It is a type of conversion – the reordering of our priorities and the changing of our values, ideals and ambitions - through fasting, prayer and mortification. Lenten observances are also intended to lead us to our annual solemn renewal of Baptismal vows on Holy Saturday. The three readings of today refer to Baptism directly or indirectly. The first reading describes how Noah’s family was saved from the waters of the Flood by God’s special providence and how God made His first “friendship covenant’” with mankind. Noah’s rescue from the flood waters symbolizes how we are saved through the waters of Baptism which cleanses us of sin and makes us one with Christ. In the second reading, Peter shows us how the waters of Baptism are the cleansing agent that saves all.
All the synoptic Gospels agree that Jesus experienced a period of temptation. The desert was the place where ancient Israel in Moses’ time was tested for 40 years. The 40 days of Jesus’ fasting may also recall the 40-day fasts undertaken by Moses (Dt 9:18) and Elijah (1 Kgs 19:8). The temptations described by Matthew and Luke and hinted at by Mark refer probably to the main temptation Jesus faced during his public life, namely, the temptation to become a political messiah of power and fame (according to the Jewish expectation), to use his Divine power for personal comfort, and to avoid suffering and death. The temptations Jesus faced and defeated, help us to understand the conflicts that were in Jesus' own life and which will be found in ours too. Instead of yielding to the temptations, Jesus said a firm “Yes” to his Father's plan, even when it came to give over his life.
A husband was struggling to make ends meet at home on one salary. Then one day he had to confront his wife with a receipt for a $ 250.00 dress she had bought. “How could you do this?” I was outside the store looking at the dress in the window, and then I found myself trying it on, “she explained. “It was like Satan whispering in my ear, “You look fabulous in that dress. Buy it!” “Well,” the husband replied, “You know how I deal with that kind of temptation. I say, “Get behind me Satan!” His wife replied, “I did that, but then he said, “It looks fabulous from the back too!”
The Fathers of the Church explain that Jesus’ temptations are described after his baptism to teach us why we are tempted and show us how we should conquer temptations. Baptism and Confirmation give us the weapons we need to do battle with Satan. God never tempts people, and never permits them to be tempted beyond their strength. But He does allow them to be tempted. Why? Here are the five reasons given by the Fathers: i) so that we can learn by experience that [with God] we are indeed stronger than the tempter; ii) to prevent us from becoming conceited over having God’s gifts; iii) that the devil may receive proof that we have completely renounced him; iv) that by the struggle we may become even stronger; and v) that we may realize how precious is the grace we have received.
As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West. Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, "Are you trying to break this bridge?" "No," the builder replied, "I'm trying to prove that the bridge won't break." In the same way, the temptations we face aren't designed to see if we would sin, but to prove that we can win over them.
Lent is a time of renewal of life by penance and prayer: Formerly the six weeks of Lent meant a time of severe penance as a way of purifying ourselves from our sinful habits and getting ready to celebrate the Paschal Mystery (the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ), with a renewed commitment to follow Christ. Now the Church leaves the Lenten practice of penance to the good will and generosity of individual Christians. However, Lent should be a time for personal reflection on where we stand as Christians in accepting the Gospel challenges in thought, word and deed. It is also a time to assess our relationships with our family, friends, working colleagues and other people we come in contact with, especially those of our parish.
We can convert Lent into a time for spiritual growth and Christian maturity by: a) participating in the Mass each day or at least a few days in the week; b) setting aside some part of our day for personal prayer; c) reading some Scripture, alone or, better still, with others; d) setting aside some money that we might spend on ourselves for meals, entertainment or clothes and giving it to an organization which takes care of the less fortunate in our society; e) abstaining from smoking or alcohol; f) receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation in Lent and participating in the “Stations of the Cross”; g) visiting the sick and those in nursing homes and doing some acts of charity, kindness and mercy every day in the Lent.
Lent reminds us that we have to take up the fight each day against the evil within us and around us, and never give up. Jesus has given the assurance that the Holy Spirit is with us, empowering us so that final victory will be ours through Jesus Christ. Let’s renew our baptismal promises to fight Satan every day and live a life conforming to the life of Christ who defeated Satan.