Your ways Lord are love and truth for those who keep your covenant
Genesis 9:8-15 [I Myself do establish My covenant with you and with your descendants.]
Psalm 25:4-9 [R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.]
I Peter 3:18-22 [Corresponding to the flood, baptism now saves you.]
Gospel Verse: Mt 4:4b [One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.]
Mark 1:12-15 [Jesus was being tempted by Satan, and the angels were ministering to Him.]
Last Liturgical year, Year A, we indicated in our reflections that the First Sunday of Lent is dedicated to the Covenant, when considered from the Old Testament readings. We also noticed that from the New Testament readings, the name for the same Sunday is Sunday of the Temptations of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. God establishes a Covenant with Noah in the First Reading. The Covenant episode chosen has something to do with water. Discussions regarding the Flood are included. God will remember His Covenant and will not bring down such calamities again on His people. The Responsorial Psalm takes up the same theme as we are made to respond: Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth for those who keep Your covenant. In introducing this Psalm the bipolar nature of the Covenant stands out: when the Lord remembers the Covenant, we are saved; and when we keep to the terms of the Covenant we purchase the loving and truthful ways of the Most High. The covenant demands reciprocity. Lent is a time when we acclaim the Lord for His fidelity and we make efforts to be faithful too as He, the Lord is faithful.
In the Second Reading, St. Peter reflects on the event recorded in the First reading and the bearing it has on our salvation thanks to baptism. These readings therefore are carefully chosen because the people of God must keep in mind the baptismal journey, the journey to be accomplished thanks to the Rite of Christian Initiation, which is celebrated today through the Rite of Election or Enrolment of Names of catechumens. By the entire Rite of Christian Initiation, the Church will not only initiate new members into the mystery of Christ, thanks to the initial sacrament of Baptism and the accompanying sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist, but will also remind the old members of their commitment to Christ, bringing those who have strayed back into the fold through the sacrament of penance.
Our minds are therefore set towards the cleansing which water will bring about, uprooting the undesirable elements of the earth, of our hearts and leaving us stand out as the Elect; God’s chosen people, the people to emerge from the Ark of Noah, to live the terms of the Covenant, a covenant characterized by the constant fidelity and love of God that will never waver.
The energy to live this covenant in fidelity, in imitation of Divine faithfulness does not come from human food. The Temptations of Jesus spoken of in the Gospel will clearly map out the path humankind will have to follow, the ways of the Lord, which must become the guiding path for everyone who accepts the terms of the Covenant. Mark, the Evangelist does not pay attention to all the sayings found in Matthew and Luke as he narrates the Temptation event. But clearly indicates the watchful care God takes over His Son Jesus who overcomes Temptations. He is ministered to by the angels.
The entire Liturgy of today is very assuring for anyone who calls on God. It is Lent: a time of prayer; a time to intensify our dialogue with the Lord, confident that when we call He will answer us (cf. Entrance Antiphon). Faced with a world full of the influence of the evil one, we are badly in need of deliverance. The assuring Antiphon promises this deliverance, length of days and the granting of glory to those who lift up their voices in prayer.
It is true that Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, almsgiving and reconciliation. Yet it is more true that it is a period of schooling; a time when we defy all odds to be schooled in the way of the Lord. The Responsorial Psalm makes this clear, expressing our prayer in which we ask the Lord to teach us, to make us know His ways and paths. Now is the time for the teaching. Now is the time for us to open ourselves to the Divine leadership, to be schooled in the truths regarding the Covenant and its terms. These are not lessons we do not know about: it is on our lips, it is in our hearts. Yet they are ways and truths we have abandoned.
Inviting the Lord to make us know them again demands that we implore His mercy and hail the steadfastness with which He has always loved us. In this regard, the Psalmist implores the Lord not to remember the sins of our youth, our transgressions (a theme that has been recurrent very recently in the liturgies of the past Sundays – the Lord, who puts our sins behind Him). The Psalm evokes the actual spirit that must entertain us if we have to be reconciled, if we have to make effective prayer: the spirit that leads us to recognize our sinfulness, the spirit of humility, of docility, that allows us to be teachable. O Lord teach me thy paths…Yes, for the Lord teaches the humble his ways.
This is precisely the case when Jesus faces the evil one and the company of the wild beasts. The Gospel acclamation: Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God, suggests that although Mark does not give us the various sayings on the Temptations, the Church intends that we bring before us the entire event as it occurred, or at any rate, as recorded about the life of Jesus Christ. Matthew and Luke make us realize that the temptations were various. The Preface of today will exhort us to have our eyes on all the snares of the ancient enemy. Following the rich and hidden path which Christ maps out for us in this event, will undoubtedly lead us to live worthy lives, will impart in us the worthy conduct which the Church prays that we manifest. To pursue the effects of the riches hidden in Christ our understanding of them must be accompanied by this worthy conduct: the good life in Christ. We need the right disposition.
What can we perceive from the Gospel about the riches hidden in Christ? First, He stands out as the Spirit-bearer. He would not go to the desert if He were not driven by the Spirit. Lent becomes meaningful to us when the right spirit drives us: not a spirit of ostentation, not a mundane spirit or an evil spirit, but The Spirit, The Holy Spirit, capable of making us live this period as a Holy season:Holy Lent (Collect).
Furthermore, we learn from the Gospel that Christ was in the wilderness for forty days! What is the wisdom behind the Son of God setting Himself apart, or rather retreating from a hostile world? It is a rich move. We all need to be away from our normal routine lives. Some therefore refer to the period of Lent, and indeed, they even add the period of Easter and Eastertide as the period of theGreat Retreat: First Forty days, then Three, then Fifty Days. These are cherished moments that must lead us to sink into the mystery of God, to understand the emptiness of a world without God, to understand the purpose of our existence, to put meaning to our lives, to be resolved about the path we should choose when we return to a not-so-friendly world; moments to be fortified so that we are able to overcome the evil one.
Jesus, though He was Son, was tempted by Satan (the evil one), and He was with the wild beasts. Satan and the wild beasts!!! There were many issues at stake here! From these issues, God did not spare His only Son. We too have to face Satan in our lives. We have to encounter these wild beasts. Not just a beast, but wild beasts. They are legion. We know them. They cause us to sin and sin many times and wildly too. But Jesus provides a hidden wisdom so simply put, yet so rich, abounding in grace, truth and mercy. What is this wisdom?
Let us consider how the Preface of today puts it. In this prayer of thanksgiving we sing: “By abstaining forty long days from earthly food, he consecrated through his fast the pattern of our Lenten observance and, by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent, taught us to cast out the leaven of malice, so that, celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery, we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast. Hence, the wisdom lies in Christ. It is found in the consecrated pattern He has provided of how to observe Lent. In Him we acquire knowledge of how to overturn all the snares of the ancient enemy. In Him, we are empowered to cast out the haughtiness of evil, and we are transformed into a happy people, a liturgical people, a sacramental people, with the Paschal mystery as our source and summit.
With this knowledge, we need to adopt some plan of action. The Gospel gives us clues regarding the plan of action we need to take. We need to allow ourselves to be ministered to by angels. While Satan (the arch fallen angel – Lucifer) is accompanied by the wild beasts, we must entrust ourselves to the angelic cohort. We have them about us. They entertain our thoughts and always provide the other voice contrary to the wild and satanic ideas that often invite us to choose the wrong path. This contrast is expressed in a stronger manner when we read the same episode in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. The temptations teach us to say No to Satan and to keep to the paths assigned to us by Christ.
Today the Church sounds the alarm of repentance: Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Mark tells us, now is the favourable time. It is true that many of us are really disturbed by the fact that the Church sets the Sacrament of Penance as the most efficacious means of effecting this reconciliation process for the followers of Christ. Some even open themselves up to weird ideas that make them thin reconciliation is not possible, ‘for’, they argue, ‘even God has not yet forgiven Lucifer’. We raise questions regarding the wisdom of the sacrament of reconciliation given to humans, and question why mere mortals should be meddling with things Divine: similar thoughts Christ last Sunday rebuked the Pharisees for! We even muster arguments to indicate how in isolated circumstances, we could prove the breaking of the sacramental seal, simulation and so on, concerns that are genuine, yet insufficient. Then we begin wondering if there are no other ways of making confessions. We appeal to history to show that the modus operandi of the the sacramental form does not date back to apostolic times. We conclude it is even enough to stand and shout out my sins before an assembly and so purchase salvation, by uttering similar words as: today I have accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour!!! Well! Sin was not that personal and Jesus, facing Satan was also facing him in the company of wild beasts, Himself being ministered to by angels. The concerns are many. We muse within us saying: by the way, are all these things not meant to be my private way to the Father? Now is not the time for such thoughts! Now is time to act, working within the parameters set by Christ, working by the dictates of the angels ministering to us, the good voice of our conscience, leading us to appreciate the fact that the Lord gave to mere mortals the authority to forgive sins, and is ready to bind what His chosen leader binds, and loose what the Church in its leadership looses. The ministering angels will cover us with their pinions and we shall truly find refuge under the shelter of their wings. They will truly become our buckler and shield. The Liturgy today highlights all these thoughts necessary to set us back on track. So more than ever we need to celebrate those words of absolution, reading in them not the words of the priest or the manifestation of his power, but perceiving in them the efficacious action of Christ as the priest pronounces: God the Father, through the death of his Son has reconciled the world and sent the Holy Spirit to us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the prayers and ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace…Therefore, I absolve you from your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We need to courageously celebrate this sacrament, not just as an external form, but as a true return of a repentant soul to the origin, the source of his sanctity.
Now is the favourable time. Now more than ever, we need to nourish our faith, increase our hope and strengthen our charity. The Eucharist helps us do this. The Prayer after communion minces no words in stating this clearly. Our reconciliation effort must move us to hunger more for Christ, the true bread and to strive to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God, for this is what it comes to if we truly love God, since He tells us: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we shall come to him and make our home in him.
Let us end this reflection with the prayer the Church says today over her people: May bountiful blessing, O Lord, we pray, come down upon your people, that hope may grow in tribulation, virtue be strengthened in temptation, and eternal redemption be assured.