Here is an audio recording of my homily this weekend. Thanks for listening.
As you can tell from the change of colors, we are in a new liturgical season….. The color is violet and the season is Lent. The word Lent comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word, lencten meaning “spring” and the word lenctentid meaning “March” the month in which most of Lent occurs.
I have always been rather fascinated by Lent. I have always had mixed feelings about it, even as a young boy. I always was kind of eager for it to start, but apprehensive too. I loved the ashes on Ash Wednesday, the movement of the Stations of the Cross every Friday at my home parish in Waseca, and the long readings of the Passion twice each Lent. Something fascinating about it all. Then there were, of course, all of Mom’s best fish recipes that were dusted off and put on the table!
It remains perhaps my most favorite liturgical season of the year because it always ends with Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday: the Triduum – the most sacred of time in our Church.
It is customary in the homily for the First Sunday of Lent to focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving – the traditional Lenten practices. These are called the pillars of our Lenten practice, and we all are called to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and to abstain from meat on those same days plus all other Fridays of Lent. This is a serious obligation we have, and we adults must not take it lightly. Our bulletin has the rules for this spelled out for you to review.
I want though, to focus my homily on the readings for the day because they take us in a different direction.
In a nutshell, they are saying this to us:
Jesus has already struggled with and overcome all the things with which we must struggle this Lent. It is in our weakness that Jesus finds his victory. Where we must go, Jesus has gone before us, for he always leads us
Through our battle against sin and weakness
Through the deep waters of life.
Through our Lent.
As our Gospel from Mark so clearly tells us, if we truly live out this Lent – a season of conversion – we will be driven into the desert where we will be tested and where we will be supported, where we will die and where we will rise, where there will be struggle and where there will be victory, and where sin will yield to forgiveness.
St. Mark always puts these things so simply. We must be careful we don’t make things more complicated than they are. He tells us today that Jesus was driven into the desert where he was tested. Jesus went from the glory of his baptism by John in the Jordan when the heavens were opened and the Father declared him his beloved Son, to the struggles of the desert where he battled evil and was victorious.
Where Jesus has gone, we must follow!
Our first reading spoke of the great flood during Noah’s time, and how the ark passed through the water, water which signaled a new covenant between God and his people, water which destroyed all that was evil in the world at that time.
St. Peter goes on to explain that we too are saved from all that is evil by our passing through water, like Noah and seven others did in the ark, but our watery passing is our baptism in which we experience forgiveness, freedom, salvation and grace.
Where we must go, Jesus has gone. He leads us in our struggles he leads us and we find victory over sin and death.
Jesus will lead us back to the Father, to our heavenly home, to our promised land where all the saints and martyrs of God await our return.
Just as Jesus was driven into the desert, stripped of his glory, only to come out victorious to proclaim God’s kingdom, so too in baptism we are stripped of all that is sinful and evil, we are anointed with the oil of strength, immersed in the cleansing waters, and then arise free from sin, converted to God and anointed with the oil of chrism to go out to proclaim to all the world that God’s reign is at hand.
Any of us who have ever struggled with real sin, long term sin, sinful habits, understand what all this means in real life. We know, don’t we, what it is like to struggle to move away from sinfulness and to wait for freedom and salvation. There are some here today, I am sure, who are in this situation. Never despair, for God is with you. He leads you. He has gone before you. He understands you. And he will heal and free you.
We need witnesses today. Men and women who have really struggled and experienced healing and forgiveness. We need witnesses who have experienced freedom from sin. Our world is far too complacent about sin and death, too willing to compromise with it. We must witness to the truth that God frees us from sin and death, that he is victorious after the struggle, that there is freedom after the battle.
It is with prayer, fasting, and acts of charity that we await this freedom, this forgiveness, a salvation which comes to us at the end of Lent, on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday when our Lord Jesus gave himself over so that we might live in the freedom of God’s children.
After all, this is what Lent is all about really.