FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
(Genesis 9: 8-15; I Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15)
They say that Army Ranger School is the toughest test for leaders of soldiers. It is comprised of sixty-one days of training to develop skills in direct fire battles. Not only does the participant have to perform difficult maneuvers, but he or she also has to function on less than five hours of sleep. In today's Gospel reading, Jesus is seen undergoing a test similar to the Army Ranger School.
The reading says that Jesus is tempted by Satan for forty days. The Gospel according to Mark does not explain the temptations. However, it can be said that having a human nature, Jesus is tempted like all human beings. It is proposed that he considers his own desires as priorities, more important than the needs of others. Today we see this type of temptation in the claims of some people to be vaccinated before others. More generally, it is seen in the willingness to have almost everything in our own way.
The season of Lent offers us forty days to be tested together with Jesus. We should understand it as a training to live in a new way. Jesus is going to instruct us how to curb our own desires and serve others. He will help us break habits that weaken us. Some are so consumed with drinking that evening cocktails become what most occupies their attention during the day. This type of person should consider giving up alcohol for 40 days. Others are so focused on their work that finishing tasks before bed takes a top priority. It would be helpful for this type of person to put more trust in God by taking the necessary rest for health.
The second reading provides another key to understanding the meaning of Lent. The Letter of Peter compares the waters of Baptism with those of the flood. As the waters of the flood delivered Noah and his family from the world permeated with sin, so the waters of Baptism have delivered us. During Lent we prepare to renew baptismal promises on Easter Sunday. Together with the catechumens we are going to rededicate ourselves to Christ. We should think of the promises as waters not only washing us from sin but also illuminating for us the Christian way. It is as if the waters wash away all pollution from the air so that for the first time we can see ahead clearly.
Although the gospel does not relate the desert temptations, it does give account of their outcome. It says that Jesus goes to preach the good news. "’... the Kingdom of God is at hand,’” he proclaims, “’Repent and believe ...’" It is worth repacking and reproclaiming this message for the world today. Although there are churches in every sector of town, people no longer live adhering to the faith. Most people think it is acceptable to cohabit before getting married. Meanwhile many children live without both mother and father in the home. Our society needs now more than ever the message of God's will for it.
How are we going to deliver the message? Very few have the opportunity to proclaim it from the pulpit. But everyone can preach it by setting a good example. We can take advantage of this Lenten season. If we can't visit the sick, we can support the charities that do. Instead of always commenting on the faults of others, we can point out their virtues. On Fridays we can not only abstain from meat but also prepare simple meals like rice and beans. If someone asks us why, we can answer that our sacrifices demonstrate our love for the Lord. We can also turn off the TV to read the gospel and pray for other others.
Do we remember the "Rocky" movie? When the protagonist began training for the boxing championship, he had a lot of difficulty. Getting up in the morning to exercise seemed as challenging as swimming in icy waters. But by the time of the event, he had become a man living in a completely new way. It is like this if we take advantage of Lent as a period of enlightenment. By Easter we will be kinder, calmer, and more loving of the Lord.