Our readings today are short and to the point. We have just begun our forty days of Lent and the first reading recalls for us the first event in Scripture that lasted forty days: the purification of the earth by the waters of the Great Flood. Humanity had been decadent, so God decided to make a new beginning with Noah, his family and with all the creatures with him. Then He formed a covenant with Noah saying, “…never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by waters of a flood.” The sign of the covenant of course was the rainbow.
In the second reading, a connection is made between the purification of the earth by the Great Flood and the purification of our souls by the waters of baptism. In baptism we become children of God and He makes a new beginning with us. He makes it possible for us to enter into an intimate, personal relationship with Him so that we might reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity. The sign of this covenant is water and the sign of the cross. We are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as water is poured over us. The cross is traced on our forehead by the minister, our parents and our godparents.
In the Gospel we are reminded of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in preparation for his public ministry. The temptations he experiences are symbolic of the temptations we experience. Even though we have been claimed by God in baptism, the same one who tempted Jesus in the desert will tempt us. The devil knows our weaknesses and he knows how to discourage us, but he does not have power over us unless we give it to him.
Wednesday, ashes were placed on our heads in the form of a cross and we heard the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” the very words of Jesus. What does it mean to repent? It means to have a sincere sorrow for our sins because we have offended an all loving God, and we have offended ourselves and others. It means we want to change for the better. If we do not repent, our sins become habitual and begin to shape our lives in a selfish, disordered way which leads to sadness at the very least and possibly to hopelessness.
Again, the words of Jesus: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” What does it mean to believe in the Gospel? It means to accept Jesus, the Word of God, as our Lord and Savior and to faithfully follow him and all he has revealed to us. It means that there is nothing in our lives more important than God and our relationship with Him, and no matter how difficult our circumstances might be, we put our total trust in Him, because He is God and has proven His love for us by sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.
These forty days are a time for all of us to take God seriously and to make a new beginning with God, whom we often take for granted. There are three focal points to help us during this Lenten season: prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
First there is prayer. No prayer means no faith. One measurement of our faith is the amount of time we spend in prayer. We should begin our day in prayer and pray throughout the day because prayer is our connection to God. We need His help in all we do. We should pray in private, but we also should pray with the people we love. It is critical that husbands and wives should pray together because in Holy Matrimony two became one in Christ, and it is Christ who will help your marriage and your family. And of course we should pray together with our faith community. The highest form of prayer is the Mass because it makes present to us the Paschal mystery and gives us the opportunity to receive the real presence of Jesus Christ. If daily Mass is not part of your routine, Lent is a good time to make the effort; you will be glad you did.
Next there is almsgiving. This is not just dropping a dollar in the collection basket. Almsgiving is having a generous heart because you realize the source of your blessings, and we trust that if we are generous, God will continue to be generous with us. Almsgiving helps us overcome our temptation to be selfish as we become more aware of the needs of others. Almsgiving helps us to learn the great lesson of divine providence and develop a profound trust in God.
Finally, we have fasting, denying our selves of something. The purpose is to take charge of our senses; to gain control of our passions. Without self control we will never reach spiritual maturity. When we think of fasting we usually think of food, but it could take other forms. We could fast from television, from excessive computer time, from things we enjoy but do not need. We could fast from being impatient with the people we love, and with others as well. We could even drive the speed limit as a form of conquering our impatience. Jesus said that if we are to be his disciples we must deny ourselves, and that is exactly what fasting is about.
The Church has given us this season of Lent because she knows we need it. Jesus knows we need it. We all need a new beginning with God. If we take God seriously during these forty days, and from our heart we “repent and believe in the Gospel,” these could be the best days of our lives, because we will certainly draw closer to God. There is nothing more important than being connected to God, because He is the source of our happiness and our eternity.