“This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:12-15
On this First Sunday in Lent, we stand with Jesus — who we are told by the gospel writers is in the desert — that place of wildness.
Today, I want to speak about water and desert.
First: the water. Both the Book of Genesis and the First Letter of St. Peter mention Noah and the great flood. Several years ago I had a grand tour of the Vatican Museum with my Saint Mary’s College students and along with the expert eyes of Dr. Elizabeth Lev, one of Rome’s leading art historians and tour guides.
At one point in that vast collection, she brought us to the area of Early Christian art, and showed us the sarcophagi (ancient burial caskets) with carved relief of the Noah story, complete with animals entering the ark; and the rainbow – God’s sign of the covenant.
Lev pointed out that the Noah story figured prominently in early Christian art, long before images of Christ. Because of the Roman persecutions of Christians, the image of Jesus was rare. Instead, the image of Noah and the ark stood for God’s rescue of his people.
In the second reading, Peter mentions Noah and sees in Jesus – the “new ark.” Coming from the city of Newark, N.J., this gives new vitality to my childhood upbringing.
So we seek the refreshment of a Lent to further our baptismal promises and know that we have been washed in these saving waters.
Let’s turn for a moment to our second motif — the desert.
Mark’s gospel and his account of Jesus in the desert have fewer details than the other evangelists; saying that Jesus was alone those forty days, tempted by the devil, and ministered to by the angels.
In a desolate place such as the desert, people maybe are forced to simplify their lives, to organize and set priorities, to take stock and consider what matters, and yes, to rest and to pray.
Such might be the work of Lent, but it’s not easy.
Recently walking through the check out counter of the supermarket, I noticed on the rack “Real Simple – Life Made Easier;” it’s a magazine dedicated to “ideas, tips and simple ways to make life even easier.”
On the cover of the issue, there were these bold promises:
- Organize solutions for every room.
- Energize your life with twenty-five bright ideas to recharge your mood, routine and rooms.
- No-cost makeover, update your home, wardrobe, and life (for free)!
Sounds simple? To my mind, it’s not so easy.
Real change, transformation and reconditioning are very hard.
My good friend and seminary classmate, Father Ed Holterhoff, the pastor of St. Timothy’s in Morro Bay, says:
“True change of mind and habits is the real work of Lent. True progress means persistence and practice.”
For example, the substance-abuse addict doesn’t recover in forty days, instead of a lifetime commitment to good health.
A person doesn’t exercise for a few weeks and then stop. You need to keep up to make progress.
So Lent is the initial stage, maybe the first step – in a life-long spiritual effort.
So what do we do with the Lent? Father Ed suggests:
Take the gospel seriously. And listen to the words of Saint Paul on Ash Wednesday when he tells us: “We are ambassadors for Christ.” The only impression people may have of Christ – may come for our genuine concern and cares for others.
Also, on Ash Wednesday, Saint Matthew reminds us to do very practical things in Lent.
Give alms to those in need. Pray for those unfulfilled aspects of life that need growth, renewal, and refreshment. Fast so that we may identify more fully with the world’s hunger for food, justice, and a wholesome environment.
Yes, take the gospel seriously. Be a person of forgiveness and peace – as Jesus was – his forgiveness on the cross, and his peace to whatever home he entered.
For this Lenten journey, G.K. Chesterton has an apt comment; he writes: “We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.”
This Lenten season asks us to bring along with us others – in our prayers, acts of generosity and yes, at times rescuing others, like Noah in his huge ark — those most hurting in our world.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.
Parents wait for news after a report of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, February 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)
David Hogg, a 17-year-old student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks for his fellow students on “CBS Sunday Morning.”