Celebrate Sunday Mass - 2.18.24 - The First Sunday of Lent

FEBRUARY 18, 2024 -- The First Sunday of Lent

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent in 2024.  This ancient practice of setting aside 40 days to enter - in and with Jesus - into the desert places in our own daily lives and confront the temptations and struggles we face. It is an invitation, if we respond properly, from the Lord and is offered through the Church. The Church as mother and teacher knows just what we need. We all know the truth and need to be honest with ourselves and before God during Lent. We all struggle with disordered appetites and unconverted ways of thinking and living.

2/18/2024 (2 months ago)

By Deacon Keith Fournier

We also demonstrate in our daily lives a lack of charity in our relationships with others. We have developed unhealthy habits which cause us untold sadness and impede our progress in virtue. None of these set us free or help us to flourish as human persons. They are the bad fruit of sin. The Desert of Lent is where we learn to conquer in the One who both shows us the Way and is Himself the Way.

Lent invites us to journey, in and with Jesus, into the Desert. In that place of struggle, the field of engagement, we can learn the root causes of our challenges and be equipped with the weapons of our warfare to fight what the Scriptures and Tradition refer to as the "world, the flesh and the devil." The "world" in this meaning is NOT the created order. Creation is good and given to us as a gift. Rather, the "world" refers to the system which has squeezed the primacy of the Creator out of daily life. When we succumb to its seduction, we give ourselves over to the idolatry of self. The "flesh" is not our body - which God fashioned and which will be raised from the dead, made glorious by the Resurrection. Remember, the Word became flesh - and was raised BODILY from the grave. Jesus was the "first fruits" of the new creation (1 Cor. 15:20) and we too will be raised in Him. Rather, the "flesh" refers to the disordered appetites which are one of the bad effects of sin at work within us. The "devil" is not some figment of our imagination, but a malevolent fallen angel who, just as he tempted our first parents and tempted the Lord, now tempts us. These 40 Days of Lent are a classroom in which we learn to conquer the "world the flesh and the devil" so we can learn to live differently, beginning now.

The Author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, "we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Heb. 4:15) Jesus, the Word made flesh, is our Model. The temptations He engages in the desert are the prototype of all the challenges we face as we respond to the continuing call to conversion. The first temptation Jesus faced was to His identity. After all, He IS the Son of God! Through our Baptism, we have now become adopted sons (and daughters) of the Father - in Jesus Christ. The next temptation was to idolatry. We regularly commit the horrid sin of idolatry, succumbing to its lies almost daily. Like the Christians in ancient Rome, we live in an age which has "exchanged the truth of God for a lie, worshipping created things rather than the Creator. (Rom. 1:25) Finally, there was the subtle but deadly temptation to violate integrity, to use the gifts and power of God improperly and put the Lord to the test. How clearly this poisonous serpent lurks in our daily life!

In each of these encounters with the Tempter, Jesus shows us the method to overcome them by confronting the lies of the devil by using the truth of God's Word. He is the Living Word, and we, through our Baptism, now live our lives in Him. In his homily on Ash Wednesday 2010, the late Pope Benedict XVI sketched for the faithful the portrait of this Holy Season as he reflected on the 40 Days that Jesus spent in the desert on our behalf: "That long time of silence and fasting for him was a complete abandonment to the Father and to His plan of love. Going into the desert meant voluntarily exposing himself to the enemy's attacks, to temptation" entering into battle with him on the open field, defying him without any weapon other than his infinite trust in the Father's omnipotent love.

"Adam was expelled from the earthly paradise, the symbol of communion with God.... Now, in order to return to that communion and thus to eternal life we must pass through the desert, the test of faith. Not alone but with Jesus who proceeds us and who has already conquered in the fight against the spirit of evil. This is the meaning of Lent, the liturgical time that, each year, invites us to renew our decision to follow Christ on the path of humility in order to participate in his victory over sin and death". Let us enter the desert, in and with Jesus.

Our first reading at Holy Mass was taken from the 9th chapter of the first Book of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Book of Genesis. It follows the account of the flood which ravished the earth because of the sin of its inhabitants. The Lord chose Noah, a righteous man, and his sons, through which to begin again. The flood has subsided, and God promises Noah, who had offered sacrifice to the Lord, that he will never again destroy the earth in this way. He calls Noah and his sons to be fruitful and replenish the earth. He then enters a Covenant with Noah, another turning point in Salvation history. The imagery of Noah's Ark has long been seen as prefiguring the Church. The waters of the flood are compared to the waters of Baptism. So much of what occurred in the Old Testament prefigures its fulfillment in the New. In the Rite of Baptism, the priest (or deacon) prays a blessing over the water which will be used which contains these words: "The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of Baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness."

Our second reading is an excerpt from the third chapter of the first letter of the Apostle Peter to all of the early Christians. Notice the reference to Noah and his family being chosen, and the reference to the Church and to the waters of Baptism. From the earliest days, the Church has understood her mission. The Church is the mystical Body of Christ. Jesus Himself is the Head. He continues His ministry through the Church. Jesus has fulfilled all of the promises of the covenants of the Past and sealed the New and Eternal Covenant in His Blood. When we passed through the Waters of the Baptismal font, we were freed from original sin and given the grace we need to live that New Covenant. We also entered into the Body of Christ and are members of that Body. Do we believe this? Do we live differently because of it?

The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent continues the first chapter of the account of St. Mark. Immediately after His Baptism by John, Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert where he is tempted by the devil and defeats him. He is also ministered to by angels. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was like us in all things but sin. (Hebrews 4:15). In His Scared humanity He not only defeated these temptations for us, He gave us the very pattern which we should follow in our own Christian lives when we are tempted. The very angels which ministered to Him also guard us and do battle with the tempter. Do we really understand the Christian life as a New Way of living? Do we battle the temptations in the Lord and use the Word of God like Jesus did? We can. We should.

Make it a Blessed Lent

Deacon Keith Fournier, JD, MTS, MPhil

Dean of Catholic Online School

Chaplain of Your Catholic Voice Foundation

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