1st Sunday of Lent

Audio —

 1st Sunday of Lent (B)          Mark 1:12-15

Lent is here and we begin that which we have done before. There are times when we go through this season by rote; abstaining from meat on Fridays and trying to keep the food intake down to one full meal, while hoping to shrink the waistline a little. We have our fish dinners on Friday but certain fish dinners can be turned into a Medieval feast, if you’re not careful. But you and I know that Lent is much deeper than that, it is our forty days in the desert with Jesus, where he talks to us in different ways and helps us to repent and believe in his Word and his way. 

During my jail ministry I dealt with people who pretended to find Jesus for ulterior motives but I also dealt with people who had a true conversion of the heart. You see, there are beasts and angels in the prisons, just like the desert. One instance I remember well. An inmate, — I’ll call him Billy, a former addict and now convicted of manslaughter. He came to a dramatic change of heart. I arranged for a priest to come and hear his confession and after that, I brought him communion. I used to give the inmates my old Magnificat prayer books and showed them how to read the gospels of the Mass each day along with the Old Testament reading. After a couple of months Billy told me he was building a relationship with Christ. So we continued to study the words of the gospel, and I taught him how to say the rosary during my weekly visits.

I communicated with Billy by letter and phone through 7 years of incarceration in state prison, he refused parole because he wanted to finish his time and not have the extra responsibilities of parole. He became active in ministry at the prison and participated at Mass and confession when a Catholic priest came every two weeks. At the Mass he led the singing and acted as lector. He got into a Bible study program by mail that he enjoyed. Billy and I continue to communicate to this day, every Christmas and Easter he calls or e-mails. Billy is a church going Catholic. He has been out of prison for 20 years now. The story is true and I use it to show that Jesus is always searching for the lost sheep, those  who have left the flock. Billy is just one example of what can happen when we proclaim, “the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.” 

Those are the first public words of Jesus according to Mark’s gospel. It sounds pretty basic but it actually contains many messages: he was telling the crowds the kingdom of God was present in the person of Jesus himself, the king. Today it is present in the Church he founded. The gospel was the good news he gave to all who would listen. Today the ‘Good News’ is contained in our Bible. Written down by men inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

Then we come to “Repent.” The word repentance in Greek is expressed as metanoia, a word meaning a profound conversion of the heart. Lent is a time for this conversion of the heart and each Lent we should be growing closer and closer in our relationship with Christ. Regardless whether this is your first or your eightieth Lenten journey.

In the early Church Lent was a time of severe penance as a way of purifying ourselves from sinful habits. This was done through fast, abstinence, alms giving, deep prayer and mortification. For example: How would you like to stand at the entrance to church holding a sign with your greatest sin written boldly on it. Thank God we have given up that tradition. Lent is similar in some ways to Advent, in that it is a time of preparation, not for the coming of Christ, but for the commemoration of the Paschal mystery: the Passion, death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the basis of our faith. For it is this mystery that gives us salvation and eternal life.

We prepare ourselves for the renewal of our baptismal promises. Lent should be a time for personal reflection on where we stand as Christians. Do we live the challenges of the gospel in thought, words, and deeds? This year we should pray and fast more intensely for holy Mother Church and ask our Lord to clarify the confusion within the Body of Christ. Pray the rosary to eradicate abortion, euthanasia, sexual abuse and all the demonic ideologies, which are a growing part of our society?

To repent, to fight against temptation and evil is a lifetime task. Even Jesus did not overcome Satan in the wilderness; he achieved that when he died on the cross. Jesus reminds us that we have to take up our cross each day against evil that is obviously growing within and around us, and never give up. 

Some things we can do to strengthen our Lenten journey are: participation in the sacrifice of the Mass. Set aside time for personal prayer each day, read some scripture, set aside some money to give to charity, go to confession, participate in the stations of the cross, visit the sick, try to do an act of kindness each day. And if you’re going to give something up for penance, make it something that is truly difficult and stick to it. I have a daughter that gave up chocolate for Lent every year until I reminded her that she did not like chocolate and never ate it at any time. —It was not penance.

Each day when you rise in the morning say to yourself, “I take up my cross, to follow you my Lord, give me strength,”