Sunday, 22 February 2015

1st Sunday of Lent, Year B

Mk 1:12-15; Gen 9:8-15; 1 Pet 3:18-22
This week we have started Lent. Lent comes around every year. This year, however, I find myself not in the mood for Lent. I’m not in the mood to enter into a period of 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It somehow feels as if we have only just had Christmas.
So, as I’ve been thinking much of this past week: I’m not in the mood.
But I’ve also been thinking that maybe this makes Lent all the more important for me this year. I was thinking about the phrase in the Gospel we heard, where St Mark describes the Holy Spirit as “driving”(Mk 1:12) Jesus out into the desert for His 40 day trial. I too need to ‘driven’, and when I need to be ‘driven’ its probably all the more important to remember WHY, to remember what Lent is all about.

This year, in the “Year B” lectionary cycle, the image given to us for Lent is that of Noah and the flood, as we heard in both our first and second readings.
The flood was 40 days, and Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness was 40 days, and our union with Him in Lent is 40 days.
The flood was to wash away sinful humanity, just as Jesus went into the temptation to do battle and vanquish sin, and we enter into Lent to purify ourselves of sin.
St Peter, in our second reading, adds a baptismal interpretation to the flood: the flood washed away sin and this was a symbol, a prefiguring, a “type”(1 Pet 3:21), of how baptism washes away sin.
I, like most of us, had the stain of inherited Original Sin washed from my soul in baptism when I was a baby. But, because I have re-dirty-ed my soul many times in sin, what I need is a new washing, and this is what the season of Lent is about.
And this baptismal symbol from Noah and the flood is therefore a hope-filled vision of the cleansing that Lent is about.

So, to recall, how does Lent do this? By the three ‘remedies for sin’: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As Christians we are called upon to take up some form of each of these remedies (not one OR the other -they work together so use them together).
Fasting: when I “give something up” for Lent I am engaging in a small form of fasting. Just as, as we heard St Peter say of Jesus, “in the body He was put to death”(1 Pet 3:18), in a parallel way I put to death my bodily desires in fasting that I might be purified of my sins, and rise a new man.
Prayer: I don’t give things up just by private will-power, but by the power of Jesus, in union with Jesus who prayed and fasted in the desert for 40 days. So, I take up some small additional extra prayer in this season. Maybe just an extra daily Hail Mary, maybe daily Mass, maybe rosary, maybe Friday Stations of the Cross.
Finally, Almsgiving: the battle with sin isn’t just about me, it’s about me and my neighbour, and so I give to the poor in some fashion. Maybe the spiritually poor, in a good deed, or maybe financially as we do today in our Lenten retiring collection for Mary’s Meals.

To return to where I began: maybe you are like me, and you’re not really in the mood for Lent. Well, life not about living according to your moods: Let’s take up the opportunity, the graces that are offered to us in this season.
Let’s take this hope-filled baptismal image of the cleansing flood, and even if we haven’t done so yet, let’s resolve to take up the three Lenten remedies for sin. We were made clean once in baptism, by grace. By grace, In union with Jesus in the desert, we can again be made clean by these three tools of the season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

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