First Sunday of Lent
The presence of evil, baptism and penance are three Lenten considerations, and all appear in today’s liturgy. Before his public ministry, Jesus made a solitary retreat in the wilderness. There he was tested by the forces of evil, he found both consolation and courage in angels who waited on him, and finally emerged victorious from his forty days of testing his strength with Satan. St. Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation seems to imply the cosmic dimension of his earthly ministry. In Jesus, the final climactic battle between God and the powers of evil has been put together, and the presence of angels gives us a hint about who will emerge victorious. His death and resurrection will resolve his relationship with the powers of evil. Experiences of temptation and weakness were not unknown to the Son of God. Thus the protecting spirit of Jesus is with us in our weakness, just as God was with him in his desert experience.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation clearly links it with his baptism. On this first Sunday of Lent, the Church wants to remind us of our own baptism. The great value of baptism is that it shares with us the saving grace of Jesus. Today’s second reading helps us appreciate this meaning of baptism. St. Peter teaches us that the rescue of Noah from the flood was a prefigure of baptism. In baptism, God extendes his hand to rescue us from the flood of human misery, to save us from drowning in the engulfing waters of sin. And after God had saved Noah from the flood, he made the rainbow a symbol of his mercy and love Baptism is the Christian rainbow; the symbol of God’s mercy and love, the sign that he will not allow a flood of hatred and evil to destroy us, in spite of all threatening thunderstorms of life.
The Church has always emphasized the sacrament of baptism during Lent. Originally those who were seeking baptism (the catechumens), were required to spend the whole season of Lent preparing to receive this sacrament on Holy Saturday. That is why at the conclusion of Lent we will all be invited to renew our baptismal promises. For baptism is a covenant, an agreement between God and us. God promised his mercy and love, and we promised (through our godparents or personally if we were adults) a life of fidelity. He became our God and we became his people.
If our renewal of baptism is not to be merely an empty gesture, we must spend the time of Lent seriously considering our relationship with God. Jesus in the gospel says: Reform your lives! It means that we must have the courage to change whatever needs to be changed about our way of living.
During Lent the official forms of penance have been reduced to the following: Only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting and abstinence. Catholics who are fourteen years of age and older are asked to abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent. This simple penance should remind us that we must strive to be more earnest in prayer and more considerate of others and generous in works of charity.