First Sunday of Lent
February 18, 2018
First Reading: Genesis 9: 8-15
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3: 18-22
Gospel: Mark 1: 12-15
Last summer I had the privilege of presiding at a liturgy at which dear friends of mine celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. It was a beautiful day near the shore and a very festive celebration with their family members and close friends. I have known Mary and John for many years and have often stayed at their home. They have always had a loving and supportive marriage, one which has inspired me in my own vocation as a religious. It seems, though, that their commitment to one another has deepened in the past couple of years. John was diagnosed with a form of cancer three years ago. He has been doing well at keeping the cancer in check through treatments at a top-ranked hospital. Mary watches John like a hawk now, making sure that he obeys all of the doctor’s orders. Through this difficult experience of facing cancer, I have seen the way in which Mary and John have deepened their commitment to one another and strengthened their relationship.
If the bonds of loyalty and commitment between people are to remain strong, they must be renewed. Sometimes that happens in the context of a festive celebration, like a wedding anniversary. At other times it occurs in a more difficult moment, like a diagnosis of cancer. However it happens, covenants of fidelity between people need to be spoken and re-spoken. We will never be able to make it through the confusing and trying times of life if we do not take the time to remember the promises we have made and to renew those promises at later moments and in new circumstances.
The Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Lent speak to us about covenant and commitment. The reading from Genesis recounts God’s covenant with Noah and, through Noah, with all of humanity and the entirety of creation. Noah hears God say, “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you.” God pledges to be the God of life, whose purpose is not to destroy but to preserve and redeem creation.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ time of fasting in the desert is deceptively simple. He gives us the bare facts: Jesus “remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” Mark adds that angels ministered to him, sheltering him in that place of danger. For the people of the Bible, the desert was a place that was rich in meaning. It was the space in which people encountered both the presence of God and the power of evil. In the desert, choices became clearer. For Jesus the desert became the place of his deepening commitment to the will of his Father and to the mission he was about to undertake–proclaiming the Good News of the Reign of God.
The season of Lent is all about covenant and commitment. We need this time to renew our baptismal commitment to God and to strengthen our bonds of fidelity with God and with the people to whom we are committed. Traditional Lenten practices can help us do that: a more focused effort at personal prayer; healthy acts of self-sacrifice that awaken our hunger for God and our solidarity with the millions of hungry people in our world; the gift of our time and treasure to the poor and others in need; the commitment to work at reconciliation in strained or broken relationships. As we take up these practices, we journey alongside catechumens and candidates who are preparing for the Easter sacraments.
Six weeks from now, at our celebration of Easter, we will publicly renew our baptismal vows and be blessed with the Easter water, a sign of new life in Christ. During this time of preparation, may we gaze on the cross of Christ. Let us see in the outstretched arms of Christ the singular sign of his love for us, his undying commitment to us. May this Lent be a season of grace for each of us, a time to renew our covenant with God and with the people to whom we are committed.
Rev. Robin Ryan, CP
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
Director of Master of Arts in Theology Program