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I said I was sorry, what more do I have to do?

Fr. Vincent Hawkswell
B.C. CATHOLIC

On Wednesday we began the Season of Lent, when we repent our sins and do penance for them. When God assumed human nature, he assumed our sins and all they deserved. This is the “good news” of the Gospel Reading: the forgiveness of sins. “Believe the good news,” Jesus said. However, he also said, “Repent.” Why, if God is so ready to forgive us, must we repent? What is repentance?

God offers us forgiveness untiringly, but we must accept it. In fact, we must ask for it. (To see this, imagine that your spouse has been unfaithful. Imagine that they come back to you, aware that you know of their adultery, and, without a word, presume that the old relationship is re-established.) (2021)

Teach Me Your Ways

Sr. Mary McGlone
National Catholic Reporter
SUNDAY'S REFLECTION (2018)

When we were teenagers, my brother and I spent a lot of time playing the guitar and singing the folk songs of the day. Our parents loved our singing, but Mom couldn’t bear to hear us sing songs about war, especially the laments over the dead or soldiers who came home maimed. We weren’t allowed to sing them in her presence. When Mom heard of someone who had died in Viet Nam, she would visibly choke up for a moment and then quietly say something like “God be with his poor wife and children.”

Mom was a young wife with an infant boy on the day she saw her husband go off to World War II. Every day from the time Dad left until the moment she saw him get off the train in Denver in 1945, she prayed, worried and lived with a hole in her heart. Anytime she heard of others living through the same thing, she got tears in her eyes. She really did share their pain. That is what compassion means.

In today’s psalm, we pray to learn God’s ways. We sing of God’s compassion and mercy, of God’s love and goodness. Then, we blithely ask to share those. As Jesus warned James and John, we may not know what we are asking.

When we ask God, “Teach me your paths,” we are opening ourselves to existential knowledge of divine compassion. That is a highfalutin way of saying we want to understand God’s ways in our flesh — in our heart and guts as well as in our minds. We want to be moved by the same loving identification with others that moves God’s saving love for us. We are offering ourselves to cry God’s tears which, like everything else divine, are without measure. Of course, the other side of it is that we are also asking to rejoice with God’s own joy.

Today’s Gospel gives us two segments in one Gospel reading, both of them short. First, we hear that the Spirit compelled Jesus to go to the desert where he struggled with everything that it means to be human. How was Jesus tested? Mark only tells us that he found himself between the Spirit and Satan, between the wild beasts and the angels.

C. S. Lewis may have been thinking of Jesus’ test when he wrote in The Screwtape Letters that human beings are “amphibians — half spirit and half animal.” Lewis said that we belong to both time and eternity, and that finding our balance in those two dimensions, learning how to be embodied spirits, or divinely-inspirited persons of flesh and blood, is the goal of human life. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis portrays a tutor devil, Screwtape, instructing his neophyte nephew demon about how to waylay human beings from their core vocation as images of God. He told his nephew that the task is to get them to fixate on just one or the other of the dimensions of their nature, the spirit or the flesh. According to Screwtape, body-denying attempts at holiness are as much a betrayal of the human vocation as is licentiousness with no regard for the human spirit. Both deny true humanity and bring misery in their wake. Jesus’ desert test seems to have entailed precisely that core human struggle. Jesus was grappling with how to be a true Son of God, a person of flesh and blood, consciously and willingly inhabited by God.

In the second, but intimately connected Gospel that we hear today, Jesus emerged from the desert with his own answer to the human dilemma. He called it the Gospel, or the good news of God. That Gospel was Jesus’ awareness that the reign of God was at hand precisely because God was at hand. Jesus took what Israel had ever dreamed of, God’s dwelling among humankind, and proclaimed that it was a reality that everyone could experience if only they were open to it. The reign of God that Jesus proclaimed is a spiritual reality that exists in time and space. It is the truly human way of living, being willingly loved and loving inspirited creatures.

The offer Jesus made to people was really very simple — and life changing: “Repent and believe.” What that really meant was “Take on a new perspective! Believe what I am saying about God and about humanity!” Jesus, the Son of God, understood God’s love for humanity and all of what human beings were capable. He saw that his mission was to make God’s love present and to share his status as God’s Son with all of humanity. He knew it was possible, and he also knew that it would come at the cost of true compassion. Those who accept Jesus’ offer will cry with God’s own tears of sorrow and of joy.

SOURCE: ©2018 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. 2018 Reflections, 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.
FIRST READING

FIRST READING — In the book Preaching the New Lectionary, Dianne Bergant points out that the Sunday readings from the Hebrew Scriptures in this Lenten liturgical cycle reflect on the covenants God has offered humankind through the ages. We begin with the first: the surprising covenant promise God made to Noah.

Covenant is the deepest and most unique concept in the Hebrew religious tradition. As Scripture presents it, a covenant is a free promise on God’s part. God’s covenant offer is unilateral, it does not depend on humanity’s response. God has chosen Israel and will not repent — no matter what. Israel does nothing to deserve this promise. The chosen people are simply that, chosen by God for God’s sovereign motives. Anytime we think of ourselves as a part of God’s chosen people, that very thought should bring us to our knees in gratitude for the gift we could never deserve. As we move through the Sundays of Lent, we reflect on God’s covenants and Israel’s growing understanding of God’s promise and offer to them. We also ask what they say to us today.

We begin with the covenant God made with all the survivors of the Great Flood in the days of Noah. Walter Bruggemann comments that we should not regard the story of the flood as a myth in the sense of its being a culture’s attempt to understand life and natural phenomena. He says it is revelation “about the God of Israel and his peculiar way in transforming the world” (Genesis: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching). According to Bruggemann, the covenant God makes with Noah, his family and the creatures, is God’s promise that divine wrath will never destroy creation as a result of human sin. That doesn’t mean that human sinfulness will not bring chaos to the world — even on a cosmic scale. Humanity is daily becoming more capable of that. The covenant, the promise God gave Noah, is that God will not destroy creation, that there is no one-to-one correspondence between human evil and divine punishment.

The symbol of God’s promise is the rainbow, a visible sign that the ancients read as God’s weapon that had been put aside. It is the sign that God will never be humanity’s adversary. Like the unilateral covenant, the sign is in the heavens, it has nothing to do with reciprocity but is a promise of compassion and mercy, pure and simple.

SOURCE: ©2018 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. 2018 Reflections, 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.
PSALM

PSALM — In Psalm 25 we pray, “Remember that your compassion … and your love are from of old. … Remember me.” The essence of the covenant God established at the time of Noah was just that, eternal compassion. God said “Never again!” Never will God repay humankind what our wickedness earns. When we ask God to remember that, we are really telling ourselves to remember it. We may also be asking for the eyes to see God’s goodness at work in our lives and the lives of those around us.

The essence of this psalm, at least for this First Sunday of Lent, is the first verse: “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.” One of the greatest challenges we could take up in Lent would be to make that verse the theme of these 40 days. Doing so will lead us to end our Lenten journey humbler and more joyful than when we started.

When we pray “Make your ways known, teach me your paths,” we are admitting that we really do not know God’s ways. If we did, we would choose them consistently, and the world would be a much better place for all. No one who is sane deliberately chooses what is evil or harmful. We always choose to do, to say or to obtain something we see as good, something we think we will enjoy, that will make us happy or help us move toward our goals. The trouble is that our vision of happiness may be unbalanced and the goals we choose are too often narrow or egocentric. We tend to choose based on a flimsy version of the good, as if we were all that matters. It is all too easy to ignore the good of the people and world around us and to see the possessions or status we desire as that which will give meaning to life. That is why the prayer “You are God my savior” should challenge us to the very core.

When we sincerely pray to know God’s ways, we are praying for a conversion that will turn us from a focus on ourselves toward sharing God’s great love for every living creature. We are asking to share in the divine compassion. Being open to that will be very costly, yet will give us a rich life.

SOURCE: ©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. 2017 Reflections, 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.
SECOND READING

SECOND READINGBritish theologian James Alison writes about the mystery of Christ and salvation in a way that turns some common thinking about God on its head. Alison is sometimes difficult to understand because his perspective is so different from what many of us have heard about Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. We have heard that the cross is the way of making up to God for sin. The alternative approach perceives Jesus’ sacrifice as God’s expression of undying, unstoppable love.

Today’s selection from the First Letter of Peter says, “Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.” Many of us will hear that as an affirmation that Christ had to suffer to atone for our sinfulness, to pay the price or take the punishment we deserve so that we would be free to approach God. The inside-out way of understanding that is to perceive that Christ embodied God’s original offer of forgiveness to humankind. The first approach understands that God created everything in perfection and when we blew it, God sent the divine son to make up for our failure.

Another perspective perceives that God created everything with a destiny of growth toward union with God and we have to learn that with as much difficulty and as many falls and mistakes as we make in learning to walk and talk. In the first perspective, Christ’s cross brings God’s forgiveness for sin. In the second, the cross is the fullest possible revelation of God’s desire to be one with us; Christ’s free acceptance of the cross demonstrates that even the ultimate attempt to reject God cannot overcome God’s compassion and saving will.

SOURCE: ©2018 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.
GOSPEL

GOSPEL — Today we hear the shortest of the three Gospel accounts of Jesus’ 40-day sojourn in the desert. Gone are the three temptations, the travels and the dialogue with the devil. Stark Mark gives us the simplest, bare bones account —  one in which every word counts.

Mark tells us that the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the desert. The Spirit who descended upon him at baptism dwells in him and moves him. The 40 days recall the Israelites’ 40 years in the desert, the 40 days Moses spent fasting and repenting for the sin of Israel and Elijah’s 40-day walk to Mt. Horeb where he would meet God in the gentle breeze (Deuteronomy 9:18, Exodus 34:27-29, 1 Kings, 19: 8-13, respectively). The desert also connects Jesus to John the Baptist’s ministry. John was the voice crying in the desert; Jesus passed time in the desert, but then went back to the towns and villages, and eventually to Jerusalem.

The desert is a place of testing where all the usual signs of God’s presence are absent; it is where a person must seek God in the midst of adversity rather than blessing. There are four “powers” present in this story with Jesus: the Spirit who drove him there, Satan who put him to the test, the wild beasts who threatened him, and the angels who ministered to him. It is as if heaven and earth hung in the balance as the forces of evil and natural danger clashed with the Spirit and God’s comforting angels.

This test sets Jesus on his path of being the living sign of God’s love even to the point of accepting his passion and death. Mark won’t leave us sitting simply with the story of the desert. He demonstrates Jesus’ victory, his answer to the test in the fact that he comes and immediately begins his preaching, his public ministry.

Mark moves us into Jesus’ ministry with the ominous introduction: “After John had been arrested.” A more precise translation of that last word is “handed over.” John was Jesus’ precursor, and his arrest and martyrdom recall Isaiah’s Servant of God (Isaiah 52). This is a sign of what Jesus can expect. Just when John’s ministry comes to its violent conclusion, Jesus begins his own which will come to a similar climax.

Now, for the first time, we hear Jesus’ voice. He makes four brief statements, two descriptive and two imperative. In the moment of terrible crisis, just as someone he respected has been taken by the Roman authorities, Jesus speaks his first words: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.”  The time (kairos) refers not to a clock hour or calendar day, but to time as the convergence of grace and nature, everything is prepared and ready for the fulfillment of the promises God has made since the time of creation.

Jesus’ shorthand description of everything he means by that kairos of fulfillment is “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The rest of the Gospel will fill out the meaning of that phrase. In short, God’s reign is becoming present in the person and mission of Jesus. God is entering human history as never before.

This kairos demands a response, and Jesus describes that response with his two imperatives. First, “repent.” As we know, that is not a call to sorrow, but to joy. “Repent” (metanoeo) might be likened to an invitation to come to our senses, to appreciate what life is really about. It is an invitation to perceive all of existence from a different perspective, a vantage point that notes God’s nearness.

The second imperative is “Believe in the Gospel.” Believe that God is good and has chosen to be with you in this time and place. Believe in God’s compassion so much that you receive it and share it. Then you will know that the reign of God is indeed near.

SOURCE: ©2018 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her 2020 Reflections and 2018 archive can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.

Lent is a time to look for rainbows

Fr. Austin Fleming
A CONCORD PASTOR COMMENTS

A rainbow does appear as a bridge, from here to – there. And that’s what God is promising: that no matter how great the flood, no matter how deep the waters, no matter how sweeping the devastation, we will not be lost in it all  – we will be saved. There will be a bridge, there will be a way through and a way over any and all the troubles we face in our lives. There will be a bridge to help us cross,  to pass through and to pass over – even to pass over and through death into life..The truth of the story in Genesis is this: that God promises to provide for us what we’re unable to provide for ourselves, that when our lives are flooded with trouble and turmoil the Lord will offer himself as an ark of safe passage, as the rainbow bridge we can cross with confidence – even through death to life. (2015)

Withdrawing to your desert

Fr. Evans K Chama, M.Afr
SINGLE HUMANITY

Lent opens with Jesus, in the Gospel, withdrawing to the desert for 40 days. Perhaps, it’s a sign that we should also consider making a little trip to the desert. But how can we have desert experience in the midst of our busy lives, in bustling cities? Happily, Lenten season is there to guide us. (2018)

Fr. Chama’s reflection is divided into the following sections:

  • But what is so special about the desert
  • Desert, place for maturing
  • Going back where you began
  • Desert, a place of retreat
  • Temptations, a way of facing oneself
  • But Lent, for what?

The promise of the rainbow

Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
DIOCESE OF ST. PETERSBURG

When we modern people think of a rainbow, we think of the colors.  The colors were not the focus of the ancient people.  Their focus was on the bow itself.  They saw the bow as God’s bow and arrows.  Remember, many of the ancients thought that storms and lightning were caused by various god’s losing their temper with a human and throwing thunderbolts and lightning at them.  The Greeks often depicted Zeus as hurling thunderbolts.  In the Noah story, the ancient Hebrews considered God as not throwing thunderbolts, but shooting them with his bow and arrow.  But, now, after the flood, God hangs up his bow. He is not going to use it again.  He sets his bow in the sky. Think of hitting a nail into the side of a wooden cabin and hanging the bow there.  The main point is that God will not give up on man. This is the covenant with Noah and us.  God will not give up on us.  And we can’t give up on ourselves.  That is the real problem… (2021)

God loves all creation. We should too.

Jamie Waters
AMERICA MAGAZINE

Today is the first Sunday of Lent, the 40-day period in which we prepare ourselves mentally and physically for Easter, focusing on prayer, fasting, almsgiving and service to others. Today’s readings invite us to reflect on God’s loving relationship with all of creation… As we embark on this Lenten journey, today’s readings inspire us to be mindful and attuned to all of creation and the ways that we support or harm our fellow creatures. As creator, God shows love and affection for all living things, and we should imitate God in that regard. As Pope Francis reminds us, “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation” (“Laudato Si’,” No. 14). (2021)

The battle with Satan

Fr. George Smiga
BUILDING ON THE WORD

So there is nothing wrong with deciding to lose a few pounds during Lent. But it would be more central to the gospel to ask, “Who am I estranged from? Who has hurt me? And can I take any steps to reconcile?” because that would be moving the world closer to the peace of God’s kingdom. There is nothing wrong with giving up cigarettes or alcohol for Lent. But it would be better to ask, “What influence could I exert on the structures of our government to protect the unborn, the immigrants, and the poor?” There is nothing wrong with praying more during Lent. But it is more fundamental to the gospel that we ask, “Where do I see injustice? In my family, at my job, among my friends? And how can I take steps to oppose it?” Lent is not about self-improvement. Lent places us in the desert with Jesus, facing off against Satan. So this Lenten season, let us believe in the gospel—the gospel that tells us that the battle has begun and that we are called to do our part to undo the evil of our world. (2018)

Title of Fr. Smiga’s other homilies for this Sunday (located on the same page) are:

  • How to Resist Temptation
  • Who Is Responsible: God or Us?
  • Surviving in the Desert
  • When Do the Angels Come?
  • Alone with the Devil

Floods and deserts

Fr. John Kavanaugh, SJ
SUNDAY WEB SITE

Floods strip us of everything, even the land to stand on. We can only wait or go under. If we sink, we suffocate. We disappear. Water is one of those great impersonal forces of the earth, before which we, even in our technological abundance, can find ourselves abandoned and helpless.

And yet water, despite its chaos, is the promise of life. Water is sustenance and cleansing. It is refreshment, purification, and promise. Thus Noah, as the embodiment of Israel, the church and perhaps all humankind, is given a regenerating covenant in the midst of utter loss. “There shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.” Later, Isaiah (Is 54) will remind Israel of God’s eternal love and pity—the only anchor in existence for Noah and all of us to depend on. (1997)

Overcoming the power of evil

Al Carino

At Lent we are given the opportunity and grace for a “forty days’ retreat”; — just like the 40 days of prayer and fasting of our Lord in the desert — and come out of it ready to redirect our lives to the commitments we made at our baptism.

Conversion

Frank Enderle

We should remember that conversion is not the strong reaction that we may feel when we hear a preacher who attracts and dazzles with his or her emotional and ardent words. Christian conversion is conversion to the person of Jesus.

Repent

Antonio P. Pueyo

Sin is real. We only have to look at the sufferings and misery we cause one another. How can one deny the reality of sin in the face of bodies mangled by war? How can one deny sin when thousands of children end up in pornography and other forms of sex trade?

Repentance

Antonio P. Pueyo

We are bound to repeat history if we have not learned our lessons from it. How can there be social renewal if we deny the need for it? When there is no admission of wrongdoing, then there can be no repentance. How can we be sorry for sins which we do not admit we have ever committed?

We have more, but less…

Jeremiah R. Grosse

The world around us and its attempts to pull us in so many directions that we lose sight of what is most important will still be with long after Lent is over. However, during this time of repentance it would beneficially to us to make an effort to slow down and take time to cherish our friendships and family. There is an old saying, “No one has ever seen a U-haul following a hearse”. Nothing is more important than our relationship with God and our neighbors, who are also made in His image and likeness.

The Bread of Adversity

Douglas P. McManaman

Friendships are always based on common qualities: we are drawn to those of like character. That’s why Christ feeds us with the bread of adversity, so that we can become more like him, so that we will have a greater and more intense friendship with him in eternity. He delights when we call out to him in a spirit of poverty and faith. What he sees is the development of a friend that he will have for all eternity.

Lifeissues.net website publishes articles directly related to issues raised in Evangelium Vitae, and related homilies by Fr. Al Cariño, O.M.I., Fr. Tony Pueyo, and others.

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