“Each of the readings in Lent draws attention to God’s saving love. The Old Testament readings show us how God prepared the way for the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The New Testament readings open us to the meaning of the Cross and our sharing in God’s saving love through the transforming power of baptism.”
by Fr John Campion SDB
Lent is a sacred time where we have the opportunity to reflect who we are as Christians and take steps to renew our lives and make space for God. Jesus was empowered at Baptism in the Jordan and he then spent forty days in preparation for ministry and said yes to the Fathers plan for him despite many temptations to do the opposite. During Lent we try to say Yes to God’s plan for us, but the tempter wants us to do the opposite. Those struggles give us an opportunity to see ourselves as we are and where we are going? Jesus was offered power and fame and to avoid the cross of suffering. He said no to his own will and said yes to the Fathers plan even if it did mean giving his own life. We are baptised too and we are not spared the temptation to take the comfortable option but we have the consolation that Jesus won the battle. God was with him and he is with us too.
The time has come to renew our promise again to follow Jesus and let the reign of God take place. It is an invitation to transform our mind, heart and spirit, thorough an active commitment to forgive, be reconciled and care for the needy and have compassion for the lost. It is a time to assess our relationships with family, friends, work colleagues and all those we are in contact with. It is an opportunity to ask what positive contribution am I offering to other peoples lives and what am I throwing out so God can come in. It is also making space for what God wants of me? It is an invitation to fight the evil within us and around us and not to give up. Lent is also a time to change, to give up false ways and take on something positive and make space for a new relationship with the Lord.
Piri Thomas wrote a book called “Down these mean streets”. It describes his conversion from being a convict, a drug addict an attempted murderer to becoming an exemplary Christian. One night he was lying in his cell bunk in prison. Suddenly he realised the mess he had made of his life. He felt an overwhelming desire to pray. He was sharing his cell with another prisoner called Thin Kid. So he waited. After he thought the Thin Kid was asleep, he climbed out of his bunk, knelt down on the cold floor and prayed. He said: “I talked to him of all my wants and lacks, of my hopes and disappointments. I felt I could even cry …” After he finished his prayer, a small voice said, “Amen”. It was the Thin Kid. The two talked along time and then Piri climbed back into his bunk. He said good night Chico, he said. I’M thinking that God is always with us, it is just we aren’t with him. This is a beautiful story where the time had come for change and what Jesus says, repent and believe the good news. Stay in the company of the one who loves us.
May we this Lent, change the ways we think, change our hearts about the gospel we ignore and change our habits of sin? Even if we fail, let’s begin again and say yes to the rule of God in our lives. May this Lent be a time of growth for all of us?
Music by Fr Pat Egan SDB
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Genesis 9:8-15
The story of Noah is the story of a reassuring covenant made by God with all of humanity and the whole of creation. Notice that the word covenant is repeated five times in the passage we read today and eight times in the whole chapter. It is God’s repeated will to save the earth, not to destroy it. God says yes to the whole of creation and God is always faithful to his word. After the flood the rainbow became the ancient symbol of God’s fidelity and our deliverance. The ancients had seen the rainbow as a divine weapon: God’s bow with which God shot thunderbolts as arrows! Now, when they saw it after the flood, they knew that God had put aside his just wrath. For us the story also unfolds the deep meaning of covenant and baptism: God’s infinitely loving promise of salvation and healing. Remember: our God is ever faithful, ever to be trusted! Jesus is the New Covenant!
LORD, Adonai, you gave us the rainbow as a glorious promise of love, fidelity and deliverance. You soothe our trembling hearts in your covenant love. Thank you for reassuring us! Thank you for the covenant you made through Noah with all of creation. Thank you for clothing nature in incredible colours. Thank you for rainbows after the rain has gone, for the golden light sparkling in the bright beauty of silver raindrops. Thank you for supporting life in its many forms and expressions. Thank you for your infinite patience and mercy with us. Thank you for your promise. Amen.
Psalm – Psalm 25:4-9
Psalm 25 invites us to lift up our souls to God. It is a psalm about prayer, about lifting up our hands in adoration and praise. It is a psalm that reminds us that our lives depend totally on God and on God’s ever-present help. The psalm teaches us to pray for help, especially for the grace of salvation, that we may all be touched by God’s awesome mercy. We pray for deliverance from all kinds of trouble and threat, from guilt and sins past and present, from distress and every kind of affliction. Most of all we pray for God’s wisdom in our lives that, guided by the Spirit, we may walk the sacred way and live what we love.
LORD, Adonai, how amazing your grace! How deep the springs of your mercy! Find me today. Heal my spiritual and emotional blindness. Lift me from my troubles and distress. Guide me in your sacred ways. Lead me in your radiant paths. Open to me the doors to truth and justice, the bright ways to humble repentance. Save me for I am a sinner! How good you are, LORD! How vast your love! You are benevolent, full of compassion and kindness, full of goodness and care! I lift my hands in praise to you! I lift my heart in blessing and gratitude! Thank you! Amen.
2nd Reading – 1 Peter 3:18-22
The second reading celebrates the universal victory of Jesus and the deep meaning of baptism, something prefigured in the story of Noah and the flood. Scholars find in St Peter’s words echoes of an early hymn about Jesus. The hymn celebrates the salvation won for us by Jesus on the Cross, the victory of the resurrection, and his descent into Sheol. It then celebrates his ascension into glory. This is the gift of the Cross: Jesus brings us to God. He brings us on a healing journey that begins in the cleansing waters of baptism when the door to life in the Spirit is opened. Rejoice! Evil is overcome!
Lord Jesus, may we never forget all you do for us. Every day you offer us the gift of your Spirit. From your throne of glory set us on fire again with the graces of baptism. This Lent teach us how to be more faithful to you, more open, more loving, more honest, more just. Encourage us to reach out to the needy with good-humoured care and respect. Encourage us to believe, hope and persevere. Fill us with your Spirit and with the courage to witness to your love now and always. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 1:12-15
Mark offers us a very short account of the temptation of Jesus. The description of this most decisive moment may be brief but it is rich in biblical tradition and meaning. For example, can you hear the echoes of Moses and Elijah? Elijah was fed by ravens during his 40 day fast (1 Kings 17:6), and the manna in the desert was called “the bread of angels” (Psalm 78:25). Reference to the Spirit makes clear the mighty power of God. Remember, too, that prophets were called and walked in the power of the Spirit. The wilderness is a traditional testing place, a trackless waste, a dangerous place inhabited by wild animals, bandits, and people rejected by society. And then there is Satan, the adversary. Mark’s story then abruptly changes. John the Baptist is arrested. And Jesus proclaims his mission: This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel. It should come as no surprise, then, that the ministry of Jesus was to be fraught with danger and end in death. Our task in Lent is to follow him willingly to Jerusalem and the gift of deliverance. Deliverance comes to us in the power of the Spirit under the miraculous sign of the Cross.
Lord Jesus, the Spirit drove you into the wilderness for a time of fasting and testing. We live in testing times, Lord, times of violence and times of anxious distress. Show us how to keep you company in these testing days of Lent. Help us see with the eyes of our hearts. Help us fast and abstain from the things that harm our brothers and sisters. Help us to see how we damage creation. Give us the courage to witness to your living word as you seek to save and heal the world: The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel. Meet us as we need to be met today. Touch our souls with life. May we share life with the world. Amen.
Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
We know the episode of the temptations of Jesus onlyfrom the synoptic tradition (Mt 4,1-11; Mk 1,12-13; Lk 4,1-13) where it is reported immediately after the scene of the Lord’s baptism (Mt 3,13-17; Mk 1,9-11; Lk 3,21-22). Before beginning his public ministry, which will have the kingdom of God as its main theme (Mk 1,15; Mt 4,17), Jesus receives the Spirit of God and is proclaimed the beloved Son (Mk 1,11; Mt 3,17; Lk 3,22). In other words he is Son first of all, and then the evangelizer. In Mark the account of the temptations is brief, and so blunt as to seem hardly credible. Why should the Spirit lead Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan? Apart from its obvious moralizing intent, this presentation contains a detail which is historically likely and needs to be taken seriously. The trial that Jesus had to undergo concerned the understanding of his personal mission and, therefore, took place before he began his mission. If the evangelizer must feel first that he is the Son – a detail elaborated a bit more by Matthew – the Son must first be put to the test. Contrary to popular expectations, and perhaps contrary also to his own preference, Jesus has to make a personal option for God before fulfilling his mission, which is to proclaim the kingdom of God and call his listeners to conversion.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Mark’s account is brief, almost telegraphic. Still, he relates two fundamental facts of the ministry of Jesus – his time in the desert and his concise proclamation of the good news.
After his baptism, as soon as Jesus has been proclaimed Son of God, he is led into the desert by the Spirit. God leads him – pushes him – to the place of trial, but without abandoning him. The Son of God must ‘repeat’ the experience of the people of God. The desert is part of the divine pedagogy. Being alone among the beasts means an absolute lack of communication, but not the absence of God, for his angels look after him. He will come out of the desert having rediscovered himself, faithful to his Father, and having found his personal mission, with God re-affirmed in his heart and the Kingdom of God proclaimed from his mouth. Mark says nothing of the motives behind the temptations, and concentrates simply on the fact. For forty days Jesus was at the mercy of Satan, alone in his presence and facing him on his own. The fact that he came out from there, preaching about God and his closeness to the world, is the best statement of his personal triumph over the Tempter.
As soon as he had passed the test, Jesus was ready to preach to the world. The arrest of John the Baptist convinced him that God’s coming was imminent – there was no time to be lost. God’s coming imposes the obligation of conversion on all who are waiting for him. Faith is not a matter of choice. Conversion and faith are imperative for those who know that God is near.
Before beginning his work of evangelization Jesus must face temptation, on his own. Only in this way could he become an evangelizer who was able to demand conversion. Because he had known temptation, he had proved his fidelity to God. Because his fidelity had been demonstrated, he could proclaim the coming of God to his people. Anyone who knows that God is coming, cannot avoid conversion.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
Lent has already started. It is a time to reflect on our life of faith, to renew our hope and to find new reasons to love. From the earliest times, Christians have journeyed towards the Risen Jesus through this time dedicated to diligent prayer and good works. It is a time of sincere effort to become more aware of God’s closeness to us in our everyday lives. It is a time of fasting and abstinence to enable us to become more free of our own appetites, always insatiable and never satisfied, and to become more open to the needs of others. Above all, it is a time of listening to God to discover what it is he is asking of us and the love he still has for each one of us.
Could it be that we do not realize that God one day took an interest in us, formed an idea of how we should be, and that he has a plan for our lives that we can discover if we pay more attention to him? It is a plan that we could fulfil if we gave him time and if we had the will to do so. It would be worth our while thinking about this. It is one of the tasks before us during this season of Lent We are used to looking at things and judging people according to our own needs. Lent is a time for us to contemplate the world through the eyes of God. Seeing ourselves as God sees us could lead us to discover that the things we have received are more than the things we lack, and also that we are more loved than we realize, more loved than we deserve. This is what Jesus did for forty days in the solitude of the desert – he saw himself as God saw him, loved himself as God loved him, the beloved Son.
Today’s gospel helps us in our effort to be converted to the ideal that God has for us. It presents Jesus being tempted in the desert and preaching the Kingdom along the roads of Galilee. If we contemplate this Jesus in our hearts, imagine his sentiments when he was alone in the desert, and imitate his courage in meeting strangers to tell them that God is near, then we will feel close to Jesus and, like him, we will know that we are children of God. Our efforts to be converted and to make God the Lord of our lives may not make us better immediately, but should make us more conscious of what we already are – children of God, like Jesus.
Who can feel far away from a God who knew solitude, trial and temptation in the desert? How can we fail to rejoice that we have a God so close to us in our sufferings and our ills, in our fears and doubts? The gospel does not tell us the nature of the temptation suffered by Jesus. It gives only two details: it happened in the desert when he was alone, and it lasted forty days, a long time, long enough to test his fidelity to God. Are we surprised that it was the Spirit who led Jesus to his place of temptation? We should not be! Temptation is not a trap for the wicked, but a moment of opportunity. We should draw courage from seeing Jesus, the Son of God, facing temptation alone in the desert for forty days. How can we lose hope in such a God, who acknowledges as his Son a man who was tempted? Temptation is an opportunity to be acknowledged as children of God, members of his family. Why, then, should we fear the opportunities God offers us to be recognised as his children? The only temptation to be feared is one that has not yet been conquered, one that has not yet confirmed us as what we are, children beloved of the Father.
If we remain faithful, if, like Jesus, we do not cling to our own point of view, our own ways and our own self-determination, then we will emerge from the trial at peace with the wild beasts, looked after by God’s angels, and grateful to be children of God. Conquering temptation does not require anything extraordinary, but simply remaining faithful to God. If we are victorious then God will recognise us as his children. When tempted, we might even convince ourselves that we cannot resist any longer, that we have to give in. We need not be surprised if, after the temptation, we do not actually feel God’s love and we cannot recognise him as our Father. It is not for the son to decide that he is a son. It is the Father who decides. And God declares that he is Father of all those who triumph over temptation.
The trial can last a long time, longer than we would like, so long that it may seem unbearable. But it does not last forever! It did not last forever in the case of Jesus nor will it last forever in our case. Every trial will end and then we will find joy and peace. Those who are victorious know that God is near, and go out to meet others to proclaim their experience. Those who come back to God and are converted to Him, become his witnesses.
Anyone who has endured temptation and been converted must preach conversion to others. The Christian who comes back to God, does not do so in order to stay with him, even though that might be the safest thing to do. Rather, he goes out to the world, as Jesus did. Our witness is the proof of our conversion. Until we become disciples of Jesus, without any inferiority complex, proud of our God and feeling secure in our conversion and our inner peace, and until we are ready to proclaim it to the world, we have not yet overcome our temptation. We are still living in the desert, among the wild beasts.
Coming back to God means going out to the world with a new message. When we have regained God, we still have to regain the world. The children of God carry the good news of the Kingdom in their hearts and on their lips. This is what Jesus did and it is our responsibility to find a way to do the same today. Until we do so, we have not conquered the temptation, we are still in the desert, feeling alone among the beasts, with no angels to look after us. That could well be an image of our spiritual situation. Because we do not dare to preach to others what we know about God, and we do not have enough courage to present ourselves before others as God’s children, we continue to suffer alone, fearing for our fidelity. We do not dare to come out of the desert and break our silence, and so we continue to be tempted.
Lent, which we have just begun, is a new opportunity for us to come back to God our Father by imitating Jesus who was able to let go of everything, the people and programmes and projects that were dear to him. We will be victorious in temptation only if we prefer God above everything, even at the cost of losing ourselves. Our victory is acknowledged only when we overcome our unwillingness and embarrassment, and proclaim God as our Father. That is what a believer does when his faith has been tested and he becomes a grateful child of God. It is up to us to find our way through the trials of life to God and to the world of men, who are tempted today as never before. By proclaiming God, we call the world to conversion. This is the journey of the children of God. Is it not a good programme for this season of Lent? It certainly is, and it would make us children of God, like Jesus.