1st Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7; Romans 5: 12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
“Grant, Almighty God, through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ.” Standing at the threshold of Lent, it is important to remember that Lent is not an endurance contest. Rather, Lent is a time for us to grow in our understanding of God’s loving compassion and mercy. Throughout the 40 days of fasting and prayer, the Church calls us return to God with all our hearts. By God’s grace, we are able to uncover our sinful nakedness. Because of God infinite love for us, even while we are mired in sin, we can stand before the Cross of Christ without fear, trusting His merciful love for us. Because He has been tempted in every way, Jesus knows our struggles and promises never to abandon us. He will accompany us all along our journey.
Today, the liturgy presents the story of our creation as recounted in the second chapter of Genesis. Like our first parents, we have lost the sense of our dignity and forgotten that we are the handiwork of God. The season of Lent is the acceptable time for us to repent of our sins and reclaim the innocence that was once ours. Through baptism, we have been given new life in Christ, a life that God breathes into the nostrils of our souls. During the days of Lent, we are invited to breathe in the Spirit as we hear and ponder the Word that echoes in our hearts. It is not for us to pick the fruit of our own choosing, but to surrender our wills to the Word already dwelling in us; the Word that delights in us and does not fill us with shame.
Lent is a time for us to set out from the garden of our delights and guided by the Spirit to journey to the Promised Land prepared for us by God. During these days, we are to develop a hunger for the Bread of Life and a thirst for the Cup of Salvation. As we discipline ourselves by fasting and prayer, we can better hear the summons of the Lord to partake of the Banquet of the Lamb. Having been taught by the Word and partaken of the Bread of heaven, we will become more able to welcome Christ in those we meet and bring them to the fullness of life that is theirs as children of God. During the season of Lent, we allow ourselves to become human again for love of Him Who became human for love of us.
Today’s passage taken from the Letter to the Romans helps put the season of Lent in perspective. The destructive self-will of Adam to be like God was transformed by the life-giving self-sacrificing love of Christ Who emptied Himself of all glory, becoming a man like us in all things but sin. In the Incarnate Word, we see the love of God the Father made tangible. He, Whose heart was opened with a lance for love of us asks us to open our hearts those in need whom we meet. During the season of Lent, we are invited to stand at the foot of the Cross so that Christ can breathe His spirit into us and bring us to the fullness of life. We who have becomes beloved sons and daughters in the Son are to love others as we have been loved.
In his Lenten Letter, Pope Francis wrote: “Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take.” We are being called into the wilderness where we shall be guided by the Spirit. Remember that God’s grace is everlasting and that He wants to help each one of us break through whatever issues hold us captive and estranged from Him. As we progress along the path into the heart of God, we will need to undertake spiritual disciplines that will open our hearts to His promptings.
We need to fast from anything that would keep our ears deaf to the voice of God and our hearts closed to the love of God. Conversion of life is a long journey into the Love of God. It is not a quick fix nor a seasonal exercise. During the season of Lent we are to develop a thirst for justice and a hunger for righteousness. By fasting, we can experience the hunger of the poor and respond to them in love and compassion. By fasting, we can develop a true hunger for God and His Word which gives life.
He Who became Bread blessed and broken for the world invites His disciples to become, like Him, Bread for the life of the world. We fast and pray throughout the season of Lent in order to deepen our relationship with God and thus to allow Him to love others through us. The prophet Isaiah put it quite beautifully: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to break the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Is. 58: 6-7) By fasting, we make ourselves weak and vulnerable. In our vulnerability, we become the hands and feet of Christ Who was nailed to the cross for love of us.
Since Lent is an acceptable time for us to keep our priorities in focus, let us exert every effort to do so. By pondering the life and teaching of Christ we can take a searching and fearless inventory of our lives and our life decisions. Allow this exhortation taken from the words of the prophet Amos to guide your life and your decisions this week: “Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a stream that never dries up” (Amos 5:24).