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First Sunday of Lent

February 26, 2012

Blessed “little Easter”!

Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observance of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer from Mass)

Readings:
Genesis 9:8-15 (God promises Noah that He will never again destroy the earth with a flood)
Psalm 25:4-6, 7-9 “Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth, to those who keep Your covenant”
I Peter 3:18-22 (We’re saved through Baptism as Noah was through the flood)
+Mark 1:12-15 (Jesus’ temptation in the desert & preaching)

Covenant! Covenant! God calls us to covenant!

He’s not content to simply send us directions for self-improvement “from a distance.”
He doesn’t offer us a contract–an exchange of goods and/or services.
That would be inconceivably unworthy of His passionate tenderness toward us.

No, He “gets His hands dirty,”
coming right down into our mess with us,
uniting Himself with us in the family bonds of covenant
an exchange of persons, of relationship,
that in returning to glory, He might raise us along with Him.

That’s what He’s done right from the beginning,
starting with Adam and Eve,
who promptly broke the covenant,
rejecting God’s relationship with them,
and casting themselves down from God’s design to lift them higher.

Things went downhill from there until the world was awash in a sea of evil.
God saved through the waters the one good man He could find,
along with his family and enough beasts to start over.

Then He renewed His invitation.
He made a new covenant, a new family bond,
signing it by setting His bow in the clouds.
We think, “rainbow,” and so it is…
but the Hebrew word is “bow” as in “bow and arrow.”
The Psalms speak of God “shooting His arrows,”
referring to lightning (see Psalm 18:14, 144:6, etc.).
When God sets His bow in the clouds,
the business end is pointing up, toward Him
(think of the way a bow shoots).
He’s not “out to get us!”

Nor did He wash His hands of those who drowned.

Our first pope tells us that…

It was in the spirit also that He went to preach to the spirits in prison
They disobeyed as long ago as Noah’s day,
while God patiently waited until the ark was built.
-I Peter 3:19-20

Not only did Jesus leave the glory of Heaven to descend to earth,
but, as we say in the Apostles Creed:

He descended into hell

(“Hell” in this case, referring to the netherworld, the abode of the dead,
not to the place of eternal torment -see Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 633)

if I sink to the nether world, You are present there
-Psalm 139:8

The gospel was preached even to the dead
-I Peter 4:6

Repentance may’ve come too late to save their mortal lives,
but we may believe that at least some of the sinners of Noah’s day
begged for mercy as the waters rose
…and God heard.

He came down, down, even to the depths of the netherworld
to save the lost.
His mercy will not be outdone.

Meanwhile, God was looking ahead to our own day,
to a world again awash with evil,
His plan in motion to save through the waters of Baptism,
in the ark of the Church–His Body! (see I Corinthians 12)–
any who would enter into yet another covenant with Him.

Even as Noah preached to his own generation
(II Peter 2:5 refers to Noah as a “preacher of righteousness”),
so Jesus–God in Person–came down to us to proclaim,

This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.
-Mark 1:14-15

The final, the ultimate covenant is at hand.
We’ve been personally invited.

Yes, God does leave open the possibility of a deathbed conversion
(as He did for those of Noah’s day)
…but there’s a lot to be said for not missing the boat!

We will be renewing our Baptismal promises
–our personal, vowed commitment to this final covenant–
at the Easter Vigil, just 6 weeks from now:

Priest: Do you renounce Satan?
All: I do.
Priest: And all his works?
All: I do.
Priest: And all his empty show?
All: I do.

(OR:

Priest: Do you renounce sin, so as to live in the freedom of the children of God?
All: I do.
Priest: Do you renounce the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over you?
All: I do.
Priest: Do you renounce Satan, the author and prince of sin?
All: I do.)

Priest: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth?
All: I do.
Priest: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried,
rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
All: I do.
Priest: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
All: I do.
-Roman Missal, Third Edition

How well does your life reflect your commitment to each “I do” of this covenant?
What can you do in the next six weeks to enter into it more deeply in preparation for its renewal?

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