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First Sunday of Lent, Year B
Homily. Readings: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15.

Purple Stole and Gospel
Readings: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15


"Jesus came to
Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.´" The Church invites us to listen to the initial proclamation of the good news of salvation, as if it were the first time, and make the beginning of our Lenten journey a beginning again to follow Christ. In him, the pledge given to Noah of an irrevocable covenant (Second Reading) is given its full realization through the mystery of his death and resurrection, into which we are baptized (Second Reading).

Journey towards Easter. The baptismal reference directs our gaze towards Easter. Lent began as an intense time of final and immediate preparation of catechumens for their baptism at the Easter Vigil. In time, it was extended to the entire Christian community; not in vain, since our baptism merits much more than the cursory attention most of us give it. It is the most important event in our lives! It is our task this Lent to make ourselves ready to make the renewal of our baptismal vows at Easter a real and effective event, not a mere ritual symbol.

The kingdom is at hand. Just as occurred during the forty days of the flood, "wild beasts" cohabit peacefully with a son of man, a clear sign that the laws of the kingdom are already in force (Isaiah 11:6-9). In the person of Jesus it is already present in its essence. All the more remarkable, and significant, then, is the fact that the momentous announcement of salvation – finally, at last, at hand! – is immediately preceded by Jesus´ forty-day fast in the desert, and immediately followed, not by a wedding feast or a blast of trumpets, but by a call to repentance and complete change of heart. This was not some divine miscalculation or irrelevant coincidence: it was the Spirit who "drove him out into the desert". Nor was it a question of a calm and idyllic retreat, but of a long battle against the fierce assault of the tempter, Satan.

Journey with Christ. Nevertheless, what Jesus proclaims is the gospel: the good news! Lent is not a lugubrious time, nor is Christian life a grim, joyless struggle against temptation and the desires of the flesh. Both are a call to follow Christ, and that is what underlies the call to conversion and "believing in" or adhering to the gospel message with our entire person. We are to be converted, not to something harsh or boring or demeaning, but to a life with and like Christ. This is a much more marvelous existence, filled with meaning and the highest dignity we could aspire to, as brothers and sisters of Christ; to the point that even the angels, recognizing him in us, are compelled to minister to us as they did to him.

God´s covenant with us is irrevocable: he will never go back on his word, thanks to his Son who has died for all of us, and risen again so that we can follow him not in imagination, but in fact.

Catechesis. The kingdom of heaven, inaugurated on earth by Jesus and central to his preaching (CCC 541-53), offers a rich subject often neglected in catechesis. Alternative: the grace of baptism (CCC 1262-74; cf. 1219).

Putting your baptism to work. What baptism works in us is literally mind-boggling - or would be if we actually gave it some thought. But if you compare the accumulated thought you have given your baptism to the time you have spent following celebrity scandals, or your favorite sports team, you´ll probably be very ashamed of your superficiality, and ingratitude. Among its multifaceted effects we can count the permanent invitation to be one of Jesus´ disciples, to closely share his life with him and follow him wherever he goes. To be part of the ´team´ Jesus has put together to proclaim the good news of the kingdom is capable of making our whole life a passionate adventure; something truly worthwhile. Of course, that needs to be more than a nice idea. Work on that during Lent. Find out what needs doing. Your pastor can help if you´re short on ideas! Then start taking concrete steps to get into action. Then the renewal of your baptismal promises this Easter will not be hot air.

Lenten Rosary.
This Lent, how about giving up "not praying the Rosary"? Jesus´ proclamation of the Kingdom and call to conversion is the third of the new "Mysteries of Light" added by Pope John Paul II to the Rosary (and the Transfiguration, subject of next Sunday´s gospel, is the fourth). In this "Year of the Rosary", why not learn to follow Christ by praying the Rosary as a family – perhaps inviting in friends or neighbors? (That´s one good and simple way of spreading the good news of the kingdom to others, incidentally). You get so much more out of an art gallery if you are guided by a real expert. To pray the Rosary is to learn about Christ with Mary as our expert guide. the very best there is. That it is the Holy Father´s favorite prayer is in itself a pretty good recommendation of its worth and its power.