Sunday Sermon for February 21, 2021, the First Sunday of Lent, Year B
Readings: Gen 9:8-15; 1 Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15
“This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” These words, taken from today’s Gospel, are the first words our Lord spoke in His public ministry. In fact, as St. Mark records the events, they are the first words our Lord spoke after facing the temptations of Satan in the desert. Perhaps it is part of God’s providence that this year we hear these words twice in a month’s time; we just heard them on January 24.
Before considering these words, we need to look at the context the Church gives us. In the second reading, St. Peter speaks about baptism being prefigured by the flood and that God waited patiently while Noah built the ark. There are two points to notice here. First, that sin reaches a certain point of culmination, but then God waits until the people He has chosen are ready for the task they are to undertake. It took about one hundred years for Noah to build the Ark; God would not begin the deluge until Noah was prepared.
We notice this same pattern with our Lord. In the Gospel we hear about His forty days in the desert; the Synoptic Gospels record that Jesus’ public life and the calling of His Apostles began after this time of trial. St. John, however, gives us the detail about the wedding feast at Cana and shows us that Jesus did not begin His public ministry until everything was ready on the human level, that is, until His Mother was fully prepared. Recall that her statement to the waiters to “do whatever He tells you,” signaled the beginning of the events that would culminate in the hour of His crucifixion.
The second point we need to see is St. Peter’s reference to baptism. Baptism is the entrance into the New Covenant. This covenant was forged on the Cross and ratified in Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. In other words, the sacrament of Baptism came to us only through suffering and death. We see this same pattern in the other two references to Noah. God makes a covenant with all of humanity that He would never again destroy the whole world by a flood. The rainbow is the sign of that covenant. This covenant was made only after the horror of the Flood and the death of all humanity, save the eight people who were on the Ark.
To hear the same Gospel passage twice in a month is certainly not the norm, but the words need to catch our attention. It is a time of fulfillment; we need to believe in the Gospel, and we need to repent. The fulfillment, as we know, did not happen for three years after our Lord spoke these words but His words signaled the beginning of that time. Following His words, He gathers disciples around Himself, preaches the Word of God, works many miracles, and goes to His Passion and death. The fulfillment of the New Covenant is fully revealed in the resurrection.
This is a time of fulfillment. Sin has certainly reached a certain point of culmination. God has been waiting patiently while He gets His Saints into place. He has given this time to His Mother who, as we saw above, spoke the words at Cana that set into motion the previous time of fulfillment. Like the other occasions we have considered, this one will require a time of trial and will be complete only when new life begins after the time of death. This time of death will combine the two deaths in today’s readings. There will the death of the Church and her glorious resurrection. There will also be the deaths of many people, including all who oppose God, as our Lady told us at Akita: fire will fall from the sky killing the greater part of humanity.
When the New Springtime of which St. John Paul spoke arrives, also known as the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a new life of Godliness will begin as well. People will have been transformed by the suffering; those who remain faithful even when it all looks hopeless will live in a union with God that has been realized previously in only a few of the greatest of Saints. It will be a glorious time of grace and charity, true love of God and neighbor.
In the meantime, we have our Lord’s call to repent and believe in the Gospel. As we enter into this season of Lent, uniting ourselves with our Lord in the desert, we need to consider the areas of our lives that offend God. We need to put our faith into action through repentance and renew the commitment of our baptism: reject Satan and be faithful to God!
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 www.thewandererpress.com.