First Sunday of Lent
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Holy Ghost Church – 8:00 & 10:00 Masses
Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15
Here we are, the First Sunday of Lent. That time of our liturgical year when we are asked by the Church to examine ourselves a bit more closely than we tend to do the rest of the year. It’s the time we are asked to pray more, to fast, and to give alms as we begin our Lenten journey to enter more fully into the experience of Christ’s death and resurrection.
After Jesus was baptized, but before he began his years of public ministry, St. Mark tells us in today’s Gospel that the Spirit “drove Jesus out into the desert,” where he experienced temptation.
Just as Jesus had his literal 40 day desert experience we hear about in today’s gospel, so do WE have our Lenten desert experience. Just as Jesus was strengthened by his desert experience in preparation for his public ministry, we too are strengthened by a well-observed Lenten experience.
Lent is the time for us to go into the desert of our selfishness and recognize that we are nothing without God. It is the time to recognize our need for God, to repent of any notion that we are self sufficient, and ask him to give us strength to keep his ways at the forefront of our minds as we pass through this valley of tears.
Lent is the time to realize that we are totally dependent upon God for everything we have: for our faith, our health, our families and friends, EVERYTHING. It is the time to thank God for our gifts and even for our suffering, suffering that sanctifies us and draws us closer to him.
Lent is also the time for us to reflect on HOW MUCH WE ARE LOVED BY GOD, the Creator of the Universe, the One who spoke everything into being.
Our first reading and our Psalm today remind us that God LOVES US SO MUCH that he has made a COVENANT with us to never, ever do harm to us, even when we stray from him. God is committed to our well-being so much more than we’ll ever know. He pursues us when we stray. He loves us SO MUCH that he sent his only begotten Son to suffer and die for us so that we might live with him forever in heaven as members of his body.
If we keep our end of this covenant, if we do our best to love him in return by spending a bit more time listening to him and allowing him to teach us his paths, in his goodness he promises to guide us in the ways of justice and teach us his ways. What more could we ask for? To have Almighty God himself teach and guide us? He doesn’t ask for much from us, only that we open our minds and our hearts to his teachings and do our best to let them guide our lives every day.
So just what practical steps might we take to listen more to God during this Lenten Season, to make Lent more meaningful? What can we do to make Lent a time of growing in holiness by recognizing the great need we have for God in our daily lives? As I said at the beginning of this homily, the Church tells us the way to get the most out of Lent is to PRAY, to FAST and to GIVE ALMS.
First and foremost, Lent is a time for increasing our commitment to prayer. Prayer by ourselves, prayer with our spouse, prayer with our families and prayer with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how we come to know his path for us, through a more active prayer life, both individually and in community.
Thomas Merton, a well-known Trappist monk from the 20th century was asked once what was the best thing we can do to improve our prayer life? He responded “take the time.“ TAKE THE TIME, it’s as simple as that!
Perhaps we can make a commitment to attend daily Mass more frequently for the next six weeks? The Mass is the ultimate prayer of the Church and there is nothing that brings us closer to the Lord than attending Mass more often and receiving the Eucharist.
Or maybe we can commit to getting up 15-20 minutes earlier on weekdays to start our day in prayer, perhaps using one of the many daily devotionals that are available. Or maybe we will choose to pray a family rosary every evening?
Another way to boost our prayer life might be to make the commitment to praying the Stations of the Cross every Friday here at the church. This is such a beautiful way to get in touch with Christ’s Passion, helping us to enter more deeply into the pain, suffering and abandonment he experienced so that we might have eternal life.
The second primary activity of Lent is that of fasting. Why do we fast? Because when we discipline our strong desires for food, drink and pleasure, the deeper hungers of the heart and the soul are able to emerge.
Jesus tells us that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed. What he means is that those who seek to be in a right relationship with God are blessed. If we don’t discipline our hunger for food, drink and pleasure then we don’t experience the deeper hungers for a closer relationship with Christ. We fast in order to control and put these often insistent physical and emotional desires in their proper place so that we can experience a hunger for holiness.
In addition to fasting from food, we may also decide to fast from activities that dominate our time, that steal time from God. How many hours a day do we spend on Facebook? Perhaps we should limit our use of social media for 40 days?
Are we able to have a meal with friends and family without having our phones on the table, checking them whenever they beep and buzz for our attention? Perhaps this Lent we should consider fasting from using our phones when we are in the company of others so that we can give them our undivided attention.
Finally, we are asked to step up our almsgiving during this holy season. We might consider making a generous donation to the Bishop’s Appeal, or maybe leave a generous tip every time we eat out. We might want to go through our closet and donate the clothes we don’t wear any more to the Hope Kitchen or to the Bridge Ministry, knowing that they will be placed quickly into the hands of those who really need them.
Dear friends in Christ, let’s all make a commitment today to adopt a few specific Lenten practices that will bring us closer to God and prepare our hearts to rejoice in his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Let’s not come to the end of Lent and find ourselves saying “You know Lent came and went and I really didn’t do that much. Nothing much changed my life.”
Don’t let that happen. Pray, fast and give alms. Maybe take just one suggestion I made from each of these disciplines and DO IT! Whatever you do is up to you, but do SOMETHING this Lent.
As Jesus tell us in today’s gospel, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” Don’t let this blessed season of repentance and spiritual growth slip away. Claim it for your own, embrace change, and make the EFFORT to grow in faith and love.
May you have a holy and fruitful Lent. God bless you.