Sunday, 18 February 2018 : First Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the first one in the season of Lent, all of us are gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist and having heard the word of God from the Scripture passages today, we are all called to remember what we all need to do during this time of Lent, the time of renewal and rejuvenation of our spiritual, mental and physical existence.

The season of Lent spans the forty days period between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday, marking a special season and time of preparation and contemplation, during which time we also practice fasting and abstinence, namely the practice of restraining our physical bodies by means of reducing our intake of food to just one full meal and two smaller meals, as well as not eating certain kind of food such as meat during Fridays in remembrance of Our Lord’s sacrifice on Good Friday.

This is a special time set aside by the Church for the good of all the faithful, because all of us indeed need to be fully prepared to celebrate the most important mysteries and tenets of our faith which culminates during the Holy Week and Easter, when we commemorate the suffering, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, Who died on the cross that all of us who believe in Him may live.

Why do we need to prepare ourselves to celebrate those important events of our faith? That is because we should not and indeed must not be giving lip service for our faith, and if we come to the celebrations of the Holy Week and Easter without preparing ourselves first, in body, mind, heart, spirit and soul, we are shortchanging ourselves and not helping ourselves in our journey to seek God’s salvation.

Each and every one of us must take it seriously upon ourselves, to prepare ourselves spiritually throughout this season of Lent. The time of Lent itself, spanning forty days has a very rich biblical background and roots, if we refer back to what we have heard in today’s readings and from our understanding of the Scriptures. The number forty has a very significant meaning, often found throughout the Scriptures representing a significant length of time linked with a time used for preparation before a certain holy occasion.

For example, Moses spent forty days atop the mount Sinai with God, as he listened to Him speaking His words and passing down His laws and commandments as part of the Covenant He made with them, and then the prophet Elijah also spent forty days and forty nights in journey through the desert as he travelled to meet God after he was terribly persecuted in the land of Israel. When Elijah met God, He made it clear to him what He wanted him to do for the sake of His people, to call them to conversion and repentance.

In our first reading today, we heard about the Great Flood which happened at the time of Noah, in the early years of mankind’s history. Much of the world were then filled with wickedness and sin, and Noah alone among all those people, the descendants of Adam and Eve, remained faithful to God and His ways. The Lord sent the flood through non-stop rain and the seas which lasted for forty days and forty nights before it stopped and the water starting to recede after that.

Again, in this case, we see the importance attached to the number forty as a period of time spent, as a major event in the history of our faith took place. Then, later on, in the Book of Exodus, we may also remember how the people of Israel spent forty years in the desert, as they waited for the opportunity to enter the Promised Land after their Exodus from Egypt. The journey should not have taken that long, but the people of Israel rebelled against God, and as they continued to be stubborn and refused to obey Him, God punished them to wander off in the desert for forty years.

In all these, we see the journey and the progression made during that period, be it forty days or be it forty years in the case of the Israelites. From a state of sin, disobedience, wickedness, unworthiness and from the clutches of darkness, those who were involved were transformed by their respective experiences, into a new state, a state of grace, of obedience, of righteousness, of joy and entering into a new Covenant with God.

In the first reading today, God made a Covenant with His servant Noah, after the end of the forty days and night of rain and after the Great Flood receded. He promised him and his descendants that He will never again send any flood to destroy the earth and its entire inhabitants as He had done at that time. He put the bow in the sky, the rainbow as the sign of His covenant and as a remembrance of His saving love, having spared Noah and his descendants, including all of us from total destruction, because of their faith.

And God renewed the Covenant He made with Israel after they had survived the forty years of journey in the desert and entered into the lands which He had promised to them and settled there. It was a time of renewal and a time of renewed grace, which was once lost because of the disobedience of their forefathers. Those who have disobeyed the Lord perished in the desert and were left behind, while those who were faithful were allowed to enter into the Promised Land and settle there.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how are all these readings and references I brought from the Scriptures relevant to us? They are indeed important for us, to be remembered and to be reflected upon, as we embark on our own forty days of preparation during this season of Lent. The first thing that we must ask ourselves is, ‘What have we done or what do we have in mind, in order to make our observation of Lenten practices more meaningful and fruitful?’

We do not need to look any further than the examples set by the Lord Jesus Himself, Whom in the Gospel today mentioned about His temptation by the devil in the desert as He fasted there for forty days. Again, in this yet another occasion, the number forty made its appearance. This time, it represents the time spent by the Lord right after His baptism by St. John the Baptist before He began His earthly ministry.

The devil tempted the Lord Who was hungry after going for forty days without food and sustenance, telling Him that He could just turn the stones into bread, and His hunger would have been easily satisfied. But the Lord rebuked Satan, saying that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Through those words, the Lord Jesus is indeed speaking to us and calling on us to be faithful to Him in this season of Lent.

And how do we do that? In this season of Lent, as mentioned, all of us fast and abstain on certain times and periods, with the purpose of resisting the temptation of greed, of human desires and wants. But do we realise that fasting and abstaining alone is not enough, if we do not fully comprehend its significance? If we just do those practices for our own benefit, then I fear that we may not be doing it right.

Instead, we should heed what the Lord said, ‘but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ as reminders that we should do our fasting, abstinence and other forms of piety and Lenten observances because ultimately we love the Lord, and we want to listen to Him and do His will, and obey Him in everything that He has commanded us to do. This is what all of us should be doing as Christians.

And then, we should also be always vigilant lest the devil tempt us in many other ways, as he had done to the Lord Himself. The devil tempted the Lord with power and pride, when he asked Him to leap down from the top of the Temple of Jerusalem, arguing that the Angels would not let His feet to hit the ground. Satan tempted the Lord with pride, knowing that it is pride that was the greatest of his own sin, having been proud with his own greatness, once the greatest and most brilliant among the Angels, Lucifer, fallen from grace because of his pride.

But the Lord would not fall into the temptation, and rebuked Satan for his attempt to test God with that act. Yet, Satan is not a being who would just easily give up. If he could not tempt the Lord, he would just continue to tempt us as he had always done, tempting us with pride, and also with power and worldly glory, as how he showed Jesus with all the kingdoms and the glories of the world, saying that he would give it to Him if only He would worship him. The Lord rebuked him and cast him away, saying that God alone is worthy of worship.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this time of Lent, we are called to spend our time well, on a time of preparation, on a time of spiritual renewal and the rediscovery of our faith, by means of prayer, by being closer to God, and by resisting the temptations with which Satan and his allies are trying to subvert us and to snatch us away from God and His saving grace.

Are we able to stay strong in our faith and resist the temptations of our flesh, imitating the examples shown by Our Lord Himself? Are we able to move beyond worldly matters and concerns, and grow to love the Lord ever more strongly, as we deepen our prayerful and love-filled relationship with Him? Are we able to show the same love to our brethren as well? There are many out there who are in need of our help and our love.

When we fast and abstain in this season of Lent, instead of just omitting the meal and the food, let us all use the spare food, the blessings and graces we received to be more charitable for the need of those who have little or none on their own. While we restrain our human greed, ambition and desires, let us remember how our greed and our desires have caused many to suffer, from hunger, from lack of love, from destitution and more.

Let us pray, that all of us Christians throughout the world, within our families and among our friends, we may all benefit greatly from this season of Lent, drawing ever closer to God’s grace, and be worthy to receive His love, mercy and compassion. May we spend these forty days with full understanding of how by growing stronger in spirituality and in our relationship with God will enable us to be better disciples and followers of the Lord. Let us all be more charitable, generous with our giving and loving for our brethren, especially those who are in need.

May the Lord be with us throughout this forty days of prayer and contemplation, throughout this season of Lent, that we will be able to make best use of it, for the sake of the salvation of our souls, that we will be worthy in the end, to receive the fullness of God’s promise as He has made through His Covenant with us, made through the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross, the reason why we fast and why we abstain, to prepare ourselves to commemorate the greatest event of our faith, Our Lord’s suffering, death and glorious resurrection. May God bless us all. Amen.

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