Fr. Robert Altier
First Sunday Of Lent
(YR B) Readings: Gen. 9:8-15 1 Peter 3:18-22 Mark 1:12-15
Our Spiritual Desert
In the first reading we hear about Noah and his sons coming off the ark after the flood had re ceded and God establishing with them a covenant with the promise that He would never again destroy the whole earth by a flood. In a fascinating turn of events, St. Pe ter in the second reading reminds us that God uses water, which de stroyed all flesh in the flood, and applies it to the salvation of our souls. It is also important to be re minded that it is through Baptism that we are incorporated into the New Covenant. In the first, the covenant is established after the waters recede and the people step out on dry ground; in the second, the covenant is established by en tering into the waters. However, the story does not end there. In the Gospel reading we see what happened to Jesus immediately after His Baptism in the Jordan. We are told that He was driven out into the desert by the Holy Spirit. During His stay of for ty days in the desert, our Lord was tempted by Satan. It is interesting that after entering into the waters of Baptism, our Lord would then go into the place where there is no water. Remember that the New Covenant, into which we were baptized, is a Person: the Person of Jesus Christ. This means that as members of Christ, Jesus can now live His life in us and through us; what happened in the life of our Lord is the pattern for our lives.
Having been baptized, each of us needs to go out into the desert. Lent is a brief experience of the spiritual desert for us because we do penance and strive for growth in holiness. While our time in this little desert is not nearly as intense as what our Lord endured, we nevertheless will find ourselves tempted by the evil one. The temp tation will be to give up on our penances, to relax, even to in dulge ourselves. The great lesson of the desert is that there are only two possible choices for survival: God or self. We can quickly reason to the fact that if we try to rely on ourselves we will die. Our only real hope for survival is to learn to trust in and rely on God. By so doing we will not only survive, but flourish. However, what God does to us in the desert follows the pattern of the Chosen People in the desert. Only after the peo ple had eaten all the bread and had drunk all the water they brought with them, and only af ter they felt deeply the pangs of hunger and the gnawing of thirst, did God finally intervene and feed them miraculously.
This is the same pattern we see in the life of our Lord. We are told in the other Gospels that Jesus did not eat or drink for forty days. What was the first temptation by the Devil? To provide Himself with something to eat. What have you chosen to do this Lent? What ever it is, you can count on the fact that the temptation will be to give up and go easy on yourself. In oth er words, the temptation is to come out of the desert early. If we do this it is because we looked to our own self and our own strength to sur vive in the desert. We need to call upon the Lord for grace to help us through the times of temptation; we also need to remember that He will allow us to feel pushed be yond our limit to endure before He will step in to help us.
This strikes us as being unchar itable, but it is really God’s way of helping us to recognize our own weakness. As much as we give Him lip service, the fact is that most of us rely on our own strength and not on the Lord.
The desert is not an end in it self, but a means to something far greater. We see this in our Lord’s life where, in the Gospel, after Jesus emerges victorious from the desert, He begins His task of preaching and in the second read ing where St. Peter tells us that Jesus was put to death, went into prison ( the abode of the dead) to preach to the souls there, then He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven.
This is the pattern we can ex pect to see in the members of Christ. We have to die to self be fore we can live for God, we have to be humbled before we are ex alted, we have to be victorious in the desert before we can really do the work to which God has called us. During this time of Lent, enter the desert, face the temptation, trust in the Lord, and defeat the Devil.