Sunday, Feb. 21
First Sunday of Lent
Gn 9:8-15; Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15
This Sunday’s first reading (Genesis 9:8–15) describes the Lord’s covenant with Noah and his sons, after the flood. The sign of this covenant, a sign that struggles to recover its Scriptural meaning today, is the rainbow.
Lent is about reestablishing our covenant with God, a covenant that was forged by the Cross of Christ. As St. Peter says in our second reading, “Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit” (3:18). This is the new and definitive covenant between God and human beings. This covenant is made effective for each of us in the waters of Baptism, a prefigurement of which St. Peter saw in the waters of the great flood (cf. 3:21).
Why do we need to reestablish a covenant with God? Because in sin we have offended against that most important relationship. We have not loved with the love with which Jesus loved us on the Cross. We have failed in our relationships with God and our brothers and sisters. We have not always lived with what St. Peter describes as a “clear conscience” (3:22). In the penitential practices of Lent (prayer, fasting, almsgiving), we open our hearts to receive the love that is God, the love God calls us to live.
The image of entering the desert with Jesus, of actually being “driven” into the desert by the Spirit (cf. Mark 1:12) may seem a bit harsh this year. It may seem as if we’ve been spending a whole year in the desert already. Entering more deeply into the reality of our current moment with Jesus does not mean to suffer more, though. It means to seek to join ourselves and all that is happening in our lives and in our world more intimately with Jesus, precisely as he faces his temptations. As we enter the desert with Jesus, we can give space to God to talk to us, in the very needs that have marked perhaps the strangest year in memory. This time allows us to notice more the ways in which he has been with us in every moment of this year, perhaps especially in those moments when we felt most alone or afraid. The Father has never left our side, as He did not leave His Divine Son’s side for those forty days. How powerful it could be to recognize this more deeply this Lent.
I mentioned the rainbow earlier, the sign of the first covenant between God and humanity. Later I mentioned Baptism, the sign of the final and definitive covenant of the Cross. That covenant then finds its most perfect expression in the Eucharist, where we enter into Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ. If during Lent we can open our eyes to the saving action of God, perhaps we will be able to open our eyes and see how all of His promises are still being fulfilled, even in the midst of a world that struggles to see this amazing truth.
The next time you look up at the sky after a rain shower, I invite you to recognize in the rainbow something beyond a natural phenomenon or a modern political symbol. Look at the sky with eyes of faith and see what Noah saw. See, through physical reality, the action of God, the sign of God’s unending love for us.
If we are capable of seeing the presence of God in the rainbow, perhaps we will be able to see it when we enter church, especially if we are just returning after not being able to go to Mass for a long time. While we may not be able to bless ourselves with Holy Water in most churches, the very act of entering the church building is a reminder that we belong to the Body of Christ, who died for us and rose again, that we might enter into His Body by Baptism and share in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
With the eyes of faith we can see the constant action of God, his permanent faithfulness to his covenant with us. When we recognize and trust in God’s faithfulness, nothing can make us afraid, no temptation can draw us away from Him; we can recommit ourselves to living out this covenant in faithfulness. The rainbow is a sign that God never abandons us. The water of Baptism and the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist are signs of the love by which He has saved us in His Son. May we open our eyes to see the truth and thus be able to live it. n
Father Alfredo Hernandez is Rector/President of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boyton Beach.