Gen 9:8-15; 1Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15
Saint Jerome, the brilliant doctor of the Church, lived for twenty five years in the cave where the Child Jesus was born. One time he prayed to Jesus thus: “Dear Child, You have suffered much to save me; how can I make amends?” “What can you give me, Jerome?” a voice was heard. “I will spend my entire life in prayer, and I will offer all my talents into your hands,” Jerome replied. “You do that to glorify me, but what more can you give to me?” the voice asked again. “I will give all my money to the poor,” Jerome exclaimed. The voice said: “Give your money to the poor; it would be just as if you were giving it to me. But what else can you give to me?”
Saint Jerome became distraught and said: “Lord, I have given you everything! What is there left to give?” “Jerome, you have not still give to me your sins,” the Lord replied. “Give it to me so I can erase them.” With these words Jerome burst into tears and spoke, “Dear Jesus, take all that is mine and give me all that is yours.”
Today is the First Sunday of Lent. Lent is from the Latin word, laentecere, meaning ‘to soften.’ Lent is a 40-day period which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends before the celebration of the Paschal Triduum excluding Sundays. ‘Forty’ is a number often associated with intense spiritual experiences. God caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the earth (Gen. 7:12). The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years. Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:28) and Elijah journeyed forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb (1Kgs 19:8).
Today’s gospel passage, St. Mark narrates that Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River and after fasting for forty days and forty nights, He is tempted by the devil in the desert. But Jesus is able to resist the temptation because of His determination to be faithful to the mission entrusted to Him by His Father. Then He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel,” (v. 15). This cry of Jesus summarizes the challenge for all Christians during this season of Lent. And so on this First Sunday of Lent, we are invited to reflect on the urgency of the call for repentance.
Actually this instruction of Jesus (v. 15) contains two points. The first is ‘to reform’ our lives. The second is to believe in the gospel. Let’s begin with the first point: the reform of our lives.
To ‘reform’ means to recognize the evil in our lives and to turn our back on it. It means to face up to sin in our lives and to turn away from it and to do something about it. We have so many evils and sins that we are facing now and we have to counteract, Fr Paul Foulon, CICM in his homily book, From Spring to Life Year B, had said like: a) Authoritarianism – whoever holds power is tempted to imposed his ideas (“Ang sabi ng hari/pari ay hindi nababali”), likes his ways obeyed and inclined to tell others what to do; b) False prophets – we meet them everywhere today in TV talk shows, gossips columns, advertising, politics and religion. They may rely on their popularity, beauty or learning to sell a message that induces people to vote for the wrong candidate, buy an overrated product or believe some religious ideas which are not in line with Jesus’ teachings; c) Dishonesty – we easily excuse a white lie in order to escape from embarrassment and yet it is still a lie. We end up with one basic rule: don’t be caught; d) Fear – Jesus often advised His disciples not to fear. Fear is the great paralyzer of what is good and right, prevents us from speaking the truths, limits the use of our talents, restrains us from extending a helping hand and so on; e) Greed – the inordinate desire for more wealth. Many societal problems have their root in greed like: wars, pollution, deforestration, drugs, smuggling, crime and cheating in business or election. Yet contentment comes not from wealth but by simple wants; f) indifference – this has showered so many good initiatives. Like for example, children complain that mistakes get a quick response but good behavior or acts are not acknowledged. It is regrettable that we live in a society in which people receive little encouragement; g) Catolico serado (traditional Catholics) – so many of us cannot be touched or impenetrable by the living Word of God; h) loyalty to wrong people – this loyalty can be to a barkada, a fraternity, a politician, a godfather, a preacher of a fundamentalist or extremist ideas that leads us to destruction. It often means to surrender our sense of responsibility to a person who has none; i) male chauvinism (‘lalaki kasi’) – we claim that men and women are equal but men still feel more equal. They may do what women may not and don’t do what women may do. But all are called to live by sound morality and to grow in maturity; j) the other is always at fault – there are people who always know whom to blame when things go wrong. We fail to see that we have personal responsibility for much that goes wrong in our lives.
There are other evils and sins that need to be counteracted: uncontrolled emotions, overprotective parents, pwede-na mentality (good enough), questionable earnings, revenge, shallow reasoning, value-indifferent parents, wastefulness, X-rated movies and shows and magazines, yabang (boastfulness) and so on. Let us face these evils and sins in our lives and do something about them. Let us reform our lives.
The second point of this instruction of Jesus is: “believe in the gospel.” This means that we have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who comes to us as a Man and saves us from our sinfulness. It means to seek out Jesus especially in the Sacrament of Penance and receive from Him forgiveness and spiritual healing. It means to seek Jesus especially in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and receives from Him His Word and His Body as our food for the soul in our journey towards eternal life. It means, after we see the evil and sin in our lives, we turn to God for help especially in prayers in order to find strength from Him.
These are the two points of Jesus’ instruction: to ‘reform’ our lives and the other one, to ‘believe in the gospel,’ to believe that Jesus can save us.
At the end let us reflect how St. Paul describes his own experience of his sinfulness and acceptance of Jesus as savior: “I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do but instead I do what I hate….For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do….What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death?…. Thanks be to God…Jesus Christ!” (Rom 7:15-25)
See: Today’s Readings