Sunday Sermon for February 22, 2015, the First Sunday of Lent, year B

Readings: Gen 9:8-15; 1Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15
In the readings today we see a contrast between the events at the time of Noah and the events at the time of our Lord. At the same time we see the similarities and how it all applies to us. To begin with the differences. At the time of Noah, there is a flood and everything that is not on the Ark is wiped out; only eight people survived. At the time of Jesus we see our Lord being led by the Spirit into the desert where there is no water. Our Lord’s work results in the wiping out of sin and the salvation of all who united with Him.

At the time of Noah, after the flood had ended, God made a covenant with Noah and every living creature so that the waters of a flood would never again destroy all creatures. In the Gospel we see our Lord just beginning His work which, when completed, will result in the ratification of a new covenant (Jesus is the covenant) which restores the life of God in the souls of people and opens the way to eternal life.

While these contrasts are vast, there are also striking similarities between these two situations. In each we have a righteous man who is working and suffering for the sake and the salvation of others. Both are obedient to God in all of His commands. In both contexts we also see the great patience of God. As St. Peter tells us in the second reading, God waited patiently while Noah built the Ark; it actually took nearly 100 years. God also showed His patience and His mercy in sending His Son when things were extremely bad in the Jewish culture of the time. The sins were so immense, but God sent His Son as the Savior, not as the Judge.

Since all of the covenants God makes with us are permanent, the covenant made with Noah is still in effect. Every time we see a rainbow, we are reminded of the promise that the whole world will never be destroyed in a flood. However, the covenant that is ours in not just automatically extended to all humanity. Instead, we have to be initiated into it by a free choice. St. Peter speaks of our baptism, through which we enter into the covenant, as being prefigured by the flood. At the time of Noah, we recall, sin had become so prevalent that God actually regretted creating humanity. The purpose of the flood was not to destroy humanity, but to destroy sin. As the waters of baptism flood over us, they remove all of the sins from our soul.

Being free of sin and incorporated into Christ, we are then given the gift of Sanctifying Grace, the very life of God, to fill our souls. We are given a share in the divine nature which allows us to be and to act in a supernatural way. This is necessary for the even greater privilege of participating in the work of Christ. He came to save souls; now we have a participation in this mission.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert. It was there that He faced the temptations of the devil, but it was also there that He prepared Himself for the work He was about to undertake. As our forty days journey of Lent begins, we are also led into a desert of sorts. For us, this is to renew our mission and to rejuvenate us in the work that has been entrusted to us.

Unlike our Lord, we are very weak; not only do we fall into sins frequently, but we also get distracted from our goal. For this reason, the Church gives us this season annually as a means of getting us refocused and recommitted. If we take it seriously, this is a very blessed time. If we just go through the perfunctory motions, doing the same “penance” that we have done for years, we are not going to understand the richness of the season nor will we see any real renewal within ourselves.

Jesus went out into the desert and prayed. Noah remained on the ark throughout the flood and, I think we can safely assume, he did a lot of praying. Make this Lent one of contrast to your ordinary life; make it more like the pattern established by our Lord. Take time each day for prayer and allow the Lord to form you. A time of silent prayer each day is like going into the desert where you can be alone with God. Prayer has to continue after the forty days, but by the end of Lent, if you have taken this time each day, you will already be seeing the beginning of the transformation God is working in you.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit