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Friday, 24 February 2012

Reflection/Homily: First (1st) Sunday of Lent Year B (February 25 2012)

A covenant ordinarily speaking could mean an agreement between two or more people, equal or unequal. It could be an agreement for sale of one’s property or for a contract. It could be between two business men or between a master and his slave. In Biblical usage, the word covenant rendered in Hebrew (O.T) as b’rit and in Greek (N.T) as diatheke, refers to the agreement between God and His chosen people, the Israelites. Sometimes, we wonder why the All Powerful God had to go into an agreement with mortal men who solely depend on Him? Likening our relationship with God to our relationship with our possessions (like a pair of shoe), do we need to make an agreement with our pair of shoe not to discard it when it is no longer needed? Going into such an agreement means belittling ourselves. However, God had to make this agreement with man just to go extra miles to convince us of His love for us, so that being aware of His love for us, we might reciprocate this love by keeping his commandments.

In the first reading, we see one of such unmerited agreements God had with humanity through 

Noah. Before then, humanity rebelled against God and He had to wipe them away leaving only the righteous Noah, his family and a few animals. After that, God promised never to wipe away humanity with the flood again. This covenant He made with Noah, He signed with the rainbow in the cloud. In the second reading, we see another covenant God made with all living creatures. The new covenant was made through Jesus Christ and we still find some relationship between the two covenants seen in the first and second readings. The first was signaled with the rainbow in the cloud that we may look up and see God’s promise not to destroy the world. The second was signaled with Christ on the Cross that we may look up and see the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation. In the first, water was the object of destruction through the waters of the flood while it became the object of salvation in the second through the waters of baptism. While a few were saved in the first, all who desire to be saved are saved in the second. The Ark was the vehicle of salvation in the first while the Church is the vehicle of salvation in the second.

The ultimate reason for these covenants is to bring about the salvation of humanity promised long ago through the prophets and fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ. The salvation brought by Christ is open to all but only those who appropriate it through the renunciation of sin and practice of virtues will be saved. Unfortunately, so many people are heading towards perdition because of the kind of lives they live. That is why the gospel reading reminds us that the time has come for us to repent and believe in the Gospel for the kingdom of God is close at hand. This emphasizes the need why we must repent.

For this reason, today being the first Sunday of Lent, the Church is ushering us into a wonderful season of repentance. The season of lent is a time for us to repent and believe in the gospel. The gospel emphasizes love, charity, humility, penance, etc and we must practice them this season and beyond. This period is going to prepare us for the re-enactment of the best thing that has happened in the history of salvation which is the death and resurrection of Christ. The Pascal mystery is the hypokaimenon (substance) of our Christian faith.

To celebrate this mystery therefore, the Church invites us to prepare ourselves within these forty days of prayer, fasting and alms-giving, just as Jesus did in the Gospel reading. Make out time to pray well during this season at least for forgiveness of sins and for the grace not to fall into temptation because prayer reunites us with God and draws us above the level of the flesh. For in trials we involve ourselves in a covenant (berith, diatheke or testamentum) with God if only we accept it with sincerity (cf. Sir.2) Therefore, the Psalmist says: Universae viae tua, Domine, misericordia et veritas, custodientibus testamentum tuum - Your ways, O Lord, are Love and truth to those who keep your covenant.  That is why we must also fast from all worldly pleasure in order to mortify our bodies and strengthen the Spirit to be stronger in prayer. But our fast should be for the benefit of the poor through the sacrifices, alms-giving and charity you do. Since sin destabilizes our union with God, sincere charity without recognition of yourself in form of public announcement of your philanthropy helps to strengthen it because it covers a multitude of sin.

In observing these great Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and alms-giving, be sure that you must be tempted and challenged by the devil who even tempted Christ. That is why the letter to the Hebrews says “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, though he did not sin” (4:15) and in another place it says “Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested” (2:18). Therefore, let us confidently approach His gracious throne, there we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most, especially when we are tempted beyond our limit (cf. Heb. 4:16). Do not be frightened with the temptations of the devil, be determined and strong and you will see the angels assisting you just as they assisted Jesus in the gospel reading. God loves you.

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