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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

First Sunday in Lent

February 26, 2012
Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

          Mark’s Gospel succinctly relates the story of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert. We are told Jesus was driven into the desert by the Spirit of God following his baptism in order to be tempted by Satan. Mark offers sparse details about what happened during these desert days. He does not mention any specific temptations that the other evangelists describe. He does not mention any great ordeal or tell us that Jesus fasted or performed any penitential acts. He simply mentions that he was driven into the desert, remained there during perils and threats of wild animals, and that angels ministered to him. At the end of that period, Jesus was ready for public ministry. We have lots of imaginative room to consider what his retreat from daily life was like.          

         The church sets this reading for the First Sunday in Lent within the context of Noah’s flood and the establishment of the covenant. Noah's account prefigures the saving waters of baptism. In order to set the world aright, God sends a great flood to coverage the earth to destroy all creatures. After the waters recede, the covenant is offered to Noah, his seven companions and the pairs of creatures that were saved. After Jesus enters into drowning river and emerges from the life-giving waters at his baptism, a special covenantal bond exists between him and the Lord God - just like Noah. Being sent into the desert is the beginning of Christ’s choice to suffer for us. Christ suffered for sins once that he might lead us to God. These readings stress our baptism as a first act of fidelity in our relationship with God. In the second reading, Peter tells us that baptism is that which saves us now.

          The Noah readings also shed light on our Eucharistic practices. God tells us that the rainbow is the ancient sign of the covenant. God promises to send us a sign that recalls the covenant. Jesus becomes that symbol of the covenant. Therefore, whenever we offer our gifts and God sees this sign of our covenantal memory, God remembers us and blesses what we offer. In our Eucharist, the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ. God affectionately remembers us and transforms the gifts each time we bring them to the altar.

          The desert temptations that follow his baptism are good events to remember when we go through growth periods in prayer. We are filled with great vigor and confidence when we have a profound religious experience, but we have to be aware of what follows it. Ignatius of Loyola tells a retreatant during the Spiritual Exercises, that when a person is moving to greater virtue or goodness, the Evil One does all sorts of things to stop one’s progress. We are sometimes blindsided by this derailment and we question the authenticity of the positive religious event. We get sidetracked. It is important for us to remember that we replicate the pattern of the life of Jesus. Just as he was baptized, Satan was there to test and tempt him. This dynamic is extremely common when we are making progress in our spiritual life, but since it is so personal, we lose sight of the tactics of the evil one. It is not a moral failing on our part. Like Jesus, we learn to rely upon the many spiritual resources at our disposal.

          This week's readings are to fortify us at the beginning of our Lenten journey. With our penitential resolves, we may undoubtedly falter. We are not to fret. Our baptism has saved us; our sacrifices and reformed ways do not change anything, but they keep us focused on the sacrifice Jesus made for us. However, as we imitate the life of Jesus, we are given signposts along the way to tell us that we will suffer temptations and undergo trials. As long as we keep our eyes on Christ, we can do what he did: proclaim that the kingdom of God is among us. It is a good story to tell.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:  The first readings in the First Week of Lent are snippets from the Old Testament designed to help the person see the virtues of turning towards God and knowing the path of destruction so one can avoid it. ~ In the Book of Leviticus, Moses tells the people to be holy because the Lord God is holy. A person stays holy by keeping the commandments given to Moses on Sinai. Leviticus elaborates on what the commandments mean with all their nuances. Isaiah explains that the ordinary things of this world, like rain and snow, are mysteries from heaven that come to us and return to God. In Jonah, the prophet preaches to the Ninevites, who, with their king, repent and turn back towards the Lord. In Esther, the Queen, seized with mortal anguish, turns to God for help against her enemies. Ezekiel tells us that the wicked man who turns to God will live, but the righteous one who turns away will surely die. Moses, in Deuteronomy, implores the people to keep the commandments, which give life. The other way brings about death.

Gospel: Much like the first readings, the Gospels in this First Week of Lent are not continuous progressions of a story, but selected passages designed to fortify a person on his or her Lenten journey.  ~ Jesus gives an account of the end times through the last judgment when the sheep are separated from the goats. Those who act mercifully are the ones who are saved. Jesus teaches the disciples to pray as he does. He gives them the "Our Father." Jesus assures the people around him that he himself and his words are a more powerful sign than Jonah when he faced the Ninevites. Jesus tells the disciples to ask, seek, and knock for God, who is all good, wants to bless you with everything you want. Our righteousness is to be greater than the religious authorities. We are to keep the commandments, but we have to work on our attitudes. Therefore, if we have anger, find a way of settling the cause of that anger. You will be happy and righteous. This righteousness extends to our neighbors and enemies. If we care for our enemies, we will have proof that the love of God rests within us.

Saints of the Week

March 1: Katherine Drexel (1858-1955), was from a wealthy Philadelphian banking family and she and her two sisters inherited a great sum of money when her parents died. She joined the Sisters of Mercy and wanted to found her own order called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to work among the African and Native Americans. Her inheritance funded schools and missions throughout the South and on reservations. A heart attack in 1935 sent her into retirement.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Feb 26, 1611. The death of Antonio Possevino, sent by Pope Gregory XIII on many important embassies to Sweden, Russia, Poland, and Germany. In addition to founding colleges and seminaries in Cracow, Olmutz, Prague, Braunsberg, and Vilna, he found time to write 24 books.
·         Feb 27, 1767. Charles III banished the Society from Spain and seized its property.
·         Feb 28, 1957. The Jesuit Volunteer Corps began.
·         Mar 1, 1549. At Gandia, the opening of a college of the Society founded by St Francis Borgia.
·         Mar 2, 1606. The martyrdom in the Tower of London of St Nicholas Owen, a brother nicknamed "Little John." For 26 years he constructed hiding places for priests in homes throughout England. Despite severe torture he never revealed the location of these safe places.
·         Mar 3, 1595. Clement VIII raised Fr. Robert Bellarmine to the Cardinalate, saying that the Church had not his equal in learning. 

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