First Sunday of Lent. Fr Leo Edgar suggests that our Lenten preparation can be aided by our certain confidence in the power of Christ.
There may well be some readers of this sermon who could justifiably question the necessity of preaching, once again, the traditional ecclesiastical teaching of Lenten penance, at a time when many people are being stretched to the limit of their self-denial by a combination of inflation, increasing mortgage and rental costs and the threat of strikes that could result in a decrease in real incomes.
But this is a Torch sermon and not a Wall Street Journal ‘economic forecast’!
And so it seems more than opportune to take a look at what scripture has to say about this Lenten season in the Church’s calendar, when we are encouraged to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s Passion and death and the even greater joy of Easter and the Resurrection that follows.
Linked to that are the many references in Old and New Testament passages of the traditional observances of Lent as a time when we pause, and give ourselves time to pray, to fast and to give alms to those who are in the most need; part of what it means to be a Christian.
Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 4) is a good starting point. Jesus has been ‘led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’. Forty days and forty nights he endures the taunts, until finally, he tells the devil to ‘Clear off!’, and worship ONLY the Lord your God!
In the reading from Genesis we are reminded of our lowly human origin and of the sinfulness of the human race. Adam and Eve’s submission to temptation led to their sin of disobedience to God’s specific instruction not to eat of the tree of knowledge, resulting in Original Sin which we all inherited. Then St Paul point out that just as ‘sin entered into the world through one man (Adam) so sin was overcome by one man (Jesus Christ).
He wrote in Romans 5 ‘if it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man’s fall, it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life, and divine grace came to so many as an abundant free gift! The gift considerably outweighed the fall!’ Christ has brought certainty into a world of uncertainty and apprehension, giving the whole of mankind hope in a future prepared for us by God to reward us. One of the many gifts on offer by God to his Church is that certainty that he is willing to forgive us our trespasses, when we come to Him seeking pardon for our sins. I like the phrase used by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium: ‘God does not hide Himself from those who seek Him with a sincere heart, even though they do so tentatively, in a vague and haphazard way’.
Our Lenten journey of faith is based on the promises we made or had made for us by godparents on our behalf, at our Baptism. We renounced the devil and all his works. Lent gives us the opportunity to renew those promises and the observances by fasting and prayer and giving to the needy, help to strengthen the resolve. At the Vigil Mass of Easter Day we can renew those promises all together in a declaration of faith which speaks of us being buried in the waters of Baptism with Christ. God keeps his covenant to us (and every living thing) with a sign when he sets the rainbow in the sky.
That same element of faith applies when we show God that we care, through prayer and fasting, plus whatever we can do to alleviate the suffering of others by our awareness as in the conflicts in Ukraine and elsewhere, and to be able to show unity with those suffering from natural disasters in Turkey and Syria in recent days. Sometimes, reflecting on those baptismal promises assists in focusing our minds as we prepare to contemplate the Good News in a world that seems to be more aware of the bad news. If we can demonstrate hope in the face of disasters we can reflect on how this Lent can bring us closer to God.
Readings: Genesis 2:7-9,3:1-7 | Romans 5:12-19 | Matthew 4:1-11
Image: detail from Christ fed by the Angels in the Wilderness by Ludovico Carracci, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
I am a first year special education teacher in an urban area and feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment, this helps greatly, and I am certain to share it and continue to meditate on it.