Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

February 21, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25:4-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15

The covenant between God and Noah symbolized by the rainbow foreshadows the covenant between God and the Church; the waters of the flood indicate the waters of Baptism. They bring life not death. The Ark symbolizes the Church. A covenant is a personal binding that brings about fusion of persons that is not simply a coexistence of convenience. A covenant is initiated by God and transforms human beings who are part of the covenant.

The covenant between God and His Church is binding and unitive because it is sealed by the blood of the Lamb of God — God’s own Son who replaces Isaac in the sacrifice intended to be offered by his father Abraham. This binding and fused nature of the New and Eternal Covenant influences the unitive and binding nature of all the sacraments that flow from Baptism, the gifts of the Holy Spirit that imbue us with the character of Christ, the Communion of the Eucharist that binds us in love as the Church, the Two-in-One flesh covenant of marriage that generates human life, the indelible character of priestly ordination that configures a man to Christ the Head and Shepherd of the Church, the real and liberating absolution imparted by the priest in the sacrament of Penance that reconciles us to God and our neighbor, and the Sacrament of the Sick that heals our infirmities and transforms our sufferings.

Sin tears at the Covenant and leads the sinner to see himself as only coexistent with God and with others even to the point that a sinner can come to view God as a rival for individual freedom. Christ’s victory over temptation in the wilderness is truly a human victory because Christ as fully human is faithful to the Old Covenant to bring it to fulfillment. Christ binds us to Himself through His humanity just as He is bound to the Father as His Divine Son. Christ keeps the Covenant as God and as man and establishes the new and eternal covenant through His Blood.

Mark’s Gospel reveals the immediate and triumphant character of Christ’s victory over Satan and over his power of temptation. At first reading, Mark’s account lacks the drama of Luke’s account — there is very little detail provided regarding the struggle of temptation between the devil and Jesus. That is the point. Christ manifests immediately His victory. The battle is won, game, set, and match. Wild animals are around him peacefully, like they were around Adam in the garden of Eden before original sin. Through Adam’s sin after succumbing to the temptation of the devil, Adam and Eve lose their place in the garden of paradise and are cast into the wilderness. Through Christ’s victory over the devil by not succumbing to temptation, Christ transforms the wilderness into our path towards eternal life.

The compelling drama of temptation for us is seductive and entices us to think that we can battle it alone without Christ. We cannot contend with the devil successfully without Christ.  To attempt to do so is to believe the lie of the devil. The temptation of Christ takes place in the wilderness for 40 days, but unlike the Israelites who are changed by their 40 years, or Noah and his family who are changed by their 40 days; the wilderness is changed by the 40 days spent there by Christ; He maps out the wilderness for us, and the key to the map that He offers to us is repentance and the cross, which unites us with Himself and does not simply involve external sacrifices of bulls and grain. The 40 days of Lent are our entrance into the wilderness transformed by Christ by which we are transformed for Easter. Prayer is our refuge from the temptation to engage the devil alone.

If we accept the grace of our Baptism and live as followers of Jesus and sacramental members of His Body, the Church, we must continue His battle against evil and sin in our own lives and in the life of our society relying upon Christ’s power not our own.

The Gospel today is truly good news. We are not just sinful because God has also graced us with goodness and strength in Christ’s victorious gift of the Holy Spirit that we have received at Baptism and Confirmation. We do not despair or give in to temptation as if our commission of sin is inevitable, but we recognize our weakness and the temptations to sin in our lives and avoid entering their occasion. When we are tempted to sin, let us consider our prompting from the Holy Spirit to pray — even if it is the brief but effective prayer, “Lord, help me!” Lent is a time to pray, to name our sins honestly, and to ask God’s forgiveness so that His Spirit can fill our lives. As we prepare to approach the altar of the Lord in the Eucharistic Covenant, Jesus gives us a clear invitation today: This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel. This Lent He is waiting for our reply.

%d bloggers like this: