Sunday Sermon for February 18, 2024, the First Sunday of Lent, Year B

Readings: Gen 9:8-15; 1 Pet 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15

In the Gospel reading today, our Lord begins His public ministry by calling the people to repentance.  While repentance is always necessary, Jesus stresses the fact that it was a time of fulfillment to show that the need for repentance was greater and more urgent than before.  It is also important to recognize that the repentance our Lord is calling for is not a momentary thing, but a true change in our lives that will lead to growth in holiness and striving to live according to God’s will.

This is important because, human nature, in its fallen state, leaves us in a very selfish frame of mind.  Recall what happened around the year 2000 when people were afraid something bad was going to happen.  They were willing to consider things from a spiritual perspective, pray, and go to confession, but when nothing happened, many abandoned their spiritual focus and resorted to their previous worldly way of life.  They were willing to do what was necessary to save their souls, but only if it was brief and did not inconvenience them too much.

Jesus called the people to repentance, but His death did not come until more than three years later, and the destruction of Jerusalem did not occur for another forty years.  If the repentance of the people who heard Him was only temporary because they thought something might happen, chances are they did not persevere and, when our Lord’s Passion arrived, they were probably not with Him.  Moreover, when Jerusalem was destroyed, many may not have been prepared for death because although they repented forty years earlier, they did not persevere in their commitment to the Lord.

This shows us the Lord’s call to repentance is a call to change our lives, to rid ourselves of anything that gravitates against God and the good of our soul, and to strive to live holy and virtuous lives.  In the second reading we are reminded that our baptism was prefigured by the flood.  Noah and his family had to persevere for many decades before the flood arrived.  This time was needed to build the Ark, but is was also designed by God to build up the faith of those who would survive the flood.  They would have been reviled, ridiculed, and persecuted by those around them.  They may have been tempted to abandon their project and their righteous way of life, but all this served to strengthen them.

In the first reading we hear about God making a covenant with Noah after the flood had ended and life could begin again on earth.  On one hand, God promises that the earth will not be destroyed by a flood again.  On the other hand, people are to live according to the covenant, that is, striving to live according to God’s ways.  The temptation is to think that since the world will not be flooded again, we can live ungodly lives because we don’t need to worry about being wiped out by a flood.

While the covenant God made with Noah is still in effect, as are the other covenants God has made with humanity, you and I entered into a covenant with God on the day we were baptized.  We promised the Lord that we would reject Satan and all his lies and nonsense.  We promised that we would live Godly lives.  Most of us have not lived these promises the way we should.  The temptations presented by the world, the flesh, and the devil are too enticing and it seems, in the immediate, to be better than following the way of the Lord.

Therefore, this call to repentance at the beginning of Lent is for us.  This is not merely a call to give up something for the next six weeks, nor is it a call to try to deepen our spiritual lives for the next month and a half.  Rather, it is a call to make lasting changes in our lives that bring us into greater conformity to the promises we made when we entered into our baptismal covenant.  It should be evident to all that we are living in extraordinary times.  In fact, as we look at what is written in Scripture, I think we can honestly say this is a time of fulfillment of what was foretold centuries ago.

We need to repent, but not merely because the times are bad.  We need to change from a worldly way of life to a Godly way of life in order to persevere through the trials that lie ahead.  Only if we are deeply rooted in prayer and striving to live virtuously will we be able to navigate our way through the confusion, the persecutions, and the chaos.  Repent and persevere in holiness of life for the salvation of your soul!

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