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2/19/18 First Sunday of Lent -Fr. Reggie

Two images from nature dominate this First Sunday of Lent.

In these images we find the key for living the next six weeks deeply and fruitfully, as God is hoping we will live them.

The first image is that of the desert. After Jesus was baptized, but before he began his years of public ministry, St Mark tells us in today's Gospel that the Spirit "drove Jesus out into the desert," where he experienced temptation. Throughout the Bible, the desert is often referred to a place of testing, where we experience our weakness and dependence on God. Water and food are hard to come by there, and the temperatures and emptiness are oppressive to both the body and the mind. The desert is a place where our illusions of self-sufficiency and comfort fade away. When we are in the desert, either literally or figuratively, we quickly realize that we need God. In other words, the desert is the opposite of the Garden of Eden. It is the place of suffering and hardship that sin has led us to. Both original sin and also our own personal sins have interfered with God's plan for our lives and for our world; they have put us in need of salvation.

The second image in today's Readings is the flood, the abundance of water that cleansed the world of sin at the time of Noah.

That ancient flood of water foreshadowed Christian baptism, the flood of grace that purifies our souls from sin, bringing new spiritual life into the desert of our sin-damaged hearts.

Sin and salvation: our sins, and Christ's loving sacrifice that leads to salvation.

These are the most fundamental aspects of our Catholic faith, and these are the themes that should fill our hearts and minds throughout the season of Lent.

It is a good idea to pay more attention than usual to the crucifix during Lent, maybe wearing a crucifix necklace, or using an image of the crucifixion as a screen saver.

The crucifix is a summary of this story of sin and salvation.

Christ's wounds are vivid images of sin, of what sin does to ourselves, the world, and our relationship with God.

But they are also vivid images of the intensity of his love for us: he suffered freely and willingly, to pay the price of our sins and give us hope for salvation.

An anecdote from the American Revolutionary War helps illustrate this.  An important military message had to be sent through territory infested with the enemy - email wasn't available. A courageous corporal was chosen to accompany the messenger. They had not gone far when they drew fire from the enemy. The messenger was killed and the corporal severely wounded in the side, but he didn't abandon his mission. He grabbed the tightly wrapped dispatch from the dead messenger and rode on till he grew faint from loss of blood. Fearing the message would fall into the hands of the enemy, he squeezed the dispatch into the wound in his side until it closed around it. The next day, they found him with a smile on his lips, so weak he could not speak, but still able to point to the wound in his side. There they found the message. The surgeon who cared for him said that the wound itself was not fatal, but putting the paper into it caused his death.

The wounds of Christ contain a message for us, a message of love and sacrifice, a message of salvation from sin, a message of his unconditional and unfailing devotion to each one of us.

Sin and salvation: the sin that wounds our hearts and our world, and the salvation that heals - these are the great themes of Lent.

But how can we allow these ideas, these truths, to inform our daily lives during the coming weeks?

Today's Psalm gives us the answer: "Teach me your paths," the psalmist prays; "Good and upright is the Lord... he shows sinners the way." Every sin is disobedience to God's will, a deviation from the path of wisdom, goodness, and everlasting life. Salvation consists in returning to that path; it consists in discovering and following, under the impulse of God's graceGod's will for our lives. Lent, then, is in the first place a time to reflect on how we have deviated from God's will. We need to examine our hearts during these days to honestly see where we have gone astray. And then we need to confess these sins to God in the sacrament of penance, and experience the unconditional mercy of God's forgiveness.

But turning away from the wrong path is only the first half our Lenten journey.

The second half is renewing our commitment to follow the right path from now on. This we cannot do alone. We need the guidance that Christ gives us in prayer and through his Church's teachings; And we need the strength he gives us in his sacraments. If we turn from the path of selfishness and ask God to lead us in the path of salvation, he surely will. And when he does, our lives will become fruitful oases of peace, wisdom, and courage in the desert of self-indulgence, violence, and relativism that our culture, in so many ways, has become.

As we continue with this Mass and this beautiful season of Lent, let us pray in our hearts: "Lord, teach us your paths; show sinners the way."



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