February 27, 2009

First Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Genesis provides us with the first reading.

It is the familiar story of Noah, who was faithful to God, whereas the world almost universally was not faithful. Since Noah was true to God, God provided that Noah should escape the impending doom of the great flood that covered the earth.

This reading is about events following the flood. Noah, his family and the pairs of the various animals that Noah had taken aboard the ark were safe on dry land. By God’s help, they had survived the flood.

God assures Noah that never again would a flood destroy the earth. For Noah and his family, the most consoling divine promise was that God promised to protect them and all their descendants. In return, they would have to conform to God’s holy will.

Genesis sadly has had a very tortured history. Volumes on how to interpret Genesis would fill a library. Without straying into the many controversies, it suffices to say that the purpose of the book, and of this reading, is to teach religious facts.

The simple religious fact is that sin destroys. God wills that people not face eternal death, but many people choose death by sinning. It is their choice.

The Second Epistle of Peter is the source of the second reading.

The letter states that it was composed in Babylon. Probably it was written in Rome, which pious Christians called Babylon because of the excesses they saw all around them there.

For Christians, living in the midst of these excesses was daunting. This epistle encouraged and reassured them. As in the case of Noah, God protects the faithful, who are united with God through Jesus. The faithful will survive—even in eternity—because God will prevail. The “glories” of Rome would fade—as indeed they did.

St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading.

It is very brief, but it is quite dramatic.

Times are threatening. Jesus retreats into the desert, where he is tempted by Satan. John the Baptist is arrested. Then the Lord comes into Galilee. His message is bold and stark. He says that “the time of fulfillment” is at hand. God will be vindicated. The tables will be balanced. The sinful will be laid low. It is inevitable.

Jesus calls people to reform their lives. Fidelity to God is the key to life. There is still time to reform.


The Church has begun the season of Lent, which is the most intense period in the Church’s year of calling its people to union with God. This weekend’s readings call people to face the facts of life as humans. They need God.

What about the flood described in Genesis? How extensive was it? Does the story in Genesis actually echo an older story from pagan sources about a great flood, with the exception of the references to the faithful Noah?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, the religious message of Genesis is clear. The first reading for this weekend is a fitting beginning to reflection for Lent. This is the message. Willful rejection of God leads necessarily and always to destruction.

God, however, always is ready—indeed even eager—to forgive and to restore life despite the gravity of our sins. His plan is that we should live.

We must seek forgiveness. Essential to asking for forgiveness is to acknowledge personal sin. Acknowledgement must be more than simply realizing our faults. The future is important. We must discipline ourselves so that we do not sin again. Such disciplining is the purpose of Lent.

On this weekend, the Church calls us to discipline by penance. It calls us to prayer, to focus our hearts and minds, and to communicate with God, the fountain of strength and mercy. Only with God’s strength will our resolve not to sin again endure in our daily life. †

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