February 16, 2018

First Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading for Mass on the first Sunday of Lent this year, from the Book of Genesis, presents the familiar story of Noah. It is a story of contrast and of the consequences of this contrast. Noah was faithful, whereas the world almost universally was not faithful. God protected Noah from doom, to which the sinful world succumbed.

Warned by God, Noah took his family and couples of the various animals onto the ark, or ship, that Noah had constructed. As the floodwaters ebbed, the ark settled on dry land. By God’s help, all aboard Noah’s ark survived.

God assures Noah and all people that never again would a flood destroy the Earth. He promises a covenant with Noah’s people. Under this covenant, or solemn agreement, the people would obey God’s law. In turn, God would protect them from peril.

It is a foundational story of all that would be revealed in the long history of salvation. Sin destroys, but God protects the truly faithful.

The second reading is from the First Epistle of St. Peter. The letter states that it was composed in Babylon, thought to be a reference to Rome, the mighty, magnificent imperial capital, and also the center of paganism and of the impious culture of the time.

Roman Christians at the time needed encouragement. This epistle provided such encouragement by recalling the faithfulness of Noah. God protects and saves the faithful, who in baptism and in holiness identify themselves with Jesus.

St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is very brief, only a few verses, but its brevity gives it drama and directness in its message.

Use of the number 40 is revealing, suggesting as it does the 40 days spent by Moses in the desert before God gave him the law on Sinai. Jesus is the bearer of God’s holy word, as was Moses. Forty was code for the perfectly fulfilled.

Jesus was ready to undertake the mission of redemption and reconciliation.

Wild beasts were everywhere, then and still today, in the Judean wilderness. Yet, angels protected Jesus. By the way, Mark does not lose the chance again to assert that Jesus is the Son of God.

At last, indicated by John’s arrest and removal from the role of prophet, the culmination of salvation awaits in Jesus. Jesus steps forward, proclaiming that God’s majesty will be seen. He calls upon the people to repent. “The time of fulfillment is at hand” (Mk 1:15). God will be vindicated. Jesus has come to set everything in balance. The sinful will be laid low. The good will endure.

Reflection

The Church has begun Lent, the most intense period in its liturgical year of calling people to union with God.

The readings for this First Sunday of Lent call people to face the facts of life as humans, bearers of good or evil, always affected by good and evil.

Regardless of the exact details of the flood described in Genesis, so often discussed and indeed questioned on scientific grounds, the religious message of Noah and his ark is clear. It supplies a fitting beginning to reflection for Lent. Sin, the willful rejection of God, leads necessarily and always to destruction.

The message of Christ, in the end, is never filled with woe and despair. God offers eternal life and peace to us now. For those who fail, God is forgiving and merciful, so long as the wayward see their faults and ask for mercy.

Essential to asking for forgiveness is to acknowledge personal sin. We must delve deeply into our hearts and minds and scrutinize what we have done.

We must be humble and strong enough to be frank with ourselves. So, we now begin our 40 days of concentrating upon our salvation. †

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