The Desert, Jesus and Our Conversion, 1st Sunday of Lent (B), March 9, 2003

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Diocese of Fall River Television Mass
Bishop Stang Chapel, N. Dartmouth, MA
First Sunday of Lent, B
March 9, 2003
Gen 9:8-15; 1Pet3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

• We have Jesus’ first homily today in the Gospel. Jesus was remarkably brief — 19 words — and when you think about the circumstances, it makes his brief message even more important. After having spent about 30 years preparing for his public ministry, after having spent 40 days in the desert, eating nothing, talking to no one but his heavenly Father, battling the devil, he returned and said it all in one sentence. Just as he spoke to the Galileans 2000 years ago, he says to you this morning: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the good news.”

• First, Jesus said two short statements of fact that set up an action item. The first statement was “The time is fulfilled,” in other words, the time has arrived, the long wait is over. What was this fullness of time? St. Paul described it to the Galations: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” Jesus came to do just that and he’s still doing it.

• The second fact was, “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom of God is present, because the kingdom exists wherever the king is. Jesus is that king of glory, that king of kings, and he is present.

• Then the action item: “repent, therefore, and believe in the good news.” Catholics throughout the world heard these or very similar words a few days ago when they came to be marked by ashes. Repent, turn away from sin, convert, and then believe in the Gospel. Lent is a time of conversion, of turning away from whatever divides us from Jesus — as sin always does — and believing ever more in the person of Jesus, in his words and in his actions. We go back to the beginning with Jesus. We meditate on and put into action his first homily. Like Noah, the Lord gives us another chance, to choose him rather than sin, to enter his kingdom by lovingly obeying the king.

• St. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians which we heard on Ash Wednesday, “I beg you: do not receive the grace of the Lord in vain.” Do not waste this chance. Do not put it off. “Now is the acceptable time!, he says.” The kingdom of God is at hand now. Therefore, as an ambassador of Christ, as a direct messenger sent out by God, he begs them, “Be reconciled to God!” I come to you this morning with that same message.

• How do we do this? The Church has always exalted three particular ways to turn away from sin and believe ever more in Christ. We should be doing these 365 days a year, but because sometimes we get sloppy in life and don’t do them, Lent is a time to begin again and get it right. We’re urged to pray, to fast and to give alms. The deepest point of all of these is that we’re urged to become more like Christ, who himself fasted for 40 days in the desert — 40 days! — who himself often used to spend all night in prayer, who gave away everything he had until his last drop of blood. Each of these practices of self-sacrifice, of increased prayer, of spending ourselves and our goods for those in need, bring us closer to Christ, who in his prayer, fasting and self-giving love, told us “follow me!”

• The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has asked all Catholics this Lent to offer their prayer and fasting for the cause of peace. He wants the whole mystical body of Christ, in every nation of the world, praying that Iraq might fulfill her international promises and obligations so that war may be avoided. He’s counting on you, knowing that you won’t let him down. Jesus said once in the Gospel, “some demons are only driven out by prayer and fasting.” Some demons — like the demons that lead to the situations in which war occurs — cannot be driven out by diplomats or even the most powerful airforce in the world, but by prayer, and fasting, by soldiers of Christ using the most power weapons in the universe, these spiritual means. Therefore, this Lent is not just for us, but for the whole world.

• The Pope has specifically asked that all Catholics, every day in this year of the Rosary, pray the Rosary for peace. This is a devotion that is particularly dear to so many of you watching this Mass at home. The Rosary is the great prayer for peace, because in the Rosary, we meditate on the face of Christ, the peacemaker, and, therefore, if we pray the Rosary well, we will become more like the one we contemplate. May we all be good Catholics, following the wish of the Holy Father, and take up this spiritual weapon every day, for peace in our hearts and peace in the world.