Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B
All of us, like Jesus, have been invited to go out into the desert for 40 days to be tempted. What would your biggest struggle be? What would you not be able to live without for 40 days? What would you be willing to leave behind? These questions might seem a bit challenging to think about or they may seem relatable to what we’ve all been going through this past year with the pandemic. We may actually feel like we’ve already been in the desert for the past year going without interactions with family and friends, travel and other comforts we are used to enjoying. So, as we enter the Lenten season this year, we might be wondering….
What more is God possibly expecting us to sacrifice?
Lent is also a really good time to pause and check in with ourselves…how are we doing mentally, emotionally, spiritually?
Today the Lord is inviting each of us to do 4 things …
- Identify where we are at the beginning of this Lenten season
- Surrender the things that are holding us back from fully entering into it
- Receive God’s love and promises with open hearts and
- Commit to this Lenten journey
Identify. Surrender. Receive. Commit.
Each of us should take some time this weekend to identify where we are at the beginning of Lent. Any year the beginning of this season is an opportunity to check in with our lives spiritually – where was I at this time 1, 2, 5 years ago? This year, in a particular way, recalling where we were at the beginning of Lent 2020 and acknowledging all that has happened since. We each may really need to start this Lent unloading the pain, frustration, or disappointment that we’ve felt in the past 12 months. Are we struggling with a sense of loss or disappointment? Are there specific things that we’re angry about? Are we having struggles in a specific relationship? Or even difficulty with our own mental, physical or emotional health or perhaps that of a loved one?
These are important things for us to identify. We need to clarify for ourselves where we are starting this Lenten journey so that we can rightly orient ourselves towards where we hope and plan to go, where the Lord wants to take us.
Now, some of us may have had some really joyful things that we have encountered this past year – being newly ordained!, a new job, a new relationship, having experienced family time in a renewed way or even a deepening in our own relationship with the Lord. So, whether we are feeling sorrows or joys or the familiar tension that often exists between the two, we start this Lent by bringing all of it before the Lord. Let’s not fall into thinking we’ve dealt with enough or that God couldn’t possibly ask us to sacrifice more. Instead, let’s re-order our thinking and our hearts asking God how we can use this Lenten season to draw us deeper to Him.
Once we’ve identified where we are, only then can we consider what things we need to surrender or let go of as we begin this Lenten journey. Contemplating again the imagery of the desert … If God has brought us to a place of desolation, are we using the stillness and silence to listen to and fix our eyes on Him? Have we brought our distractions into the dessert with us and neglected to attune our hearts and minds to what God is speaking to us?
The things we need to surrender may be the tangible sacrifices that we often think of when considering our Lenten practice of fasting – giving up certain foods or drinks, social media, TV, or other things that regularly distract and preoccupy us. But they could also be emotions and mental attitudes or things we currently recognize as obstacles in our personal or work relationships, or our relationship with God such as resentment, frustration, anger, or disappointment. Think of the things you desire to surrender. Intentionally bring them to prayer.
One prayer that I really love is the Jesus prayer. It is an ancient prayer that allows us to keep the name of Jesus on our hearts and minds, puts us in a posture of humility, and asks Jesus for mercy. It’s simple to pray, and it’s actually my go-to Act of Contrition: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Sit with the name of Jesus, His Mercy, our sinfulness. Bring to Him in this prayer each thing that you need to surrender and take as much time as you need, perhaps even doing this simple practice each day during Lent, simply repeating…
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”
Persevere in the things you are surrendering, it is a continual process of choosing to let go of each of these things, intentionally making room and giving God space in our daily lives, in our minds and our hearts.
As we surrender these things to the Lord, we become more open, we open our hearts to become more receptive to freely accept what God is bestowing upon us. What does God give to us? What are His promises to us?
In our First Reading from the Book of Genesis, we hear God’s promise of the covenant with Noah, which is representative of God’s promise to all of humanity, the promise to all of us that He will NOT forsake us. He will always be with us. His love for us is abundant and unchanging.
Take a moment to reflect on whether you truly believe those statements. If we find ourselves struggling with any of those truths, this may help us to identify areas where we need to renew our trust in God. Do I believe in God’s love for me? Do I believe in God’s goodness?
One of the things that I sometimes give as a penance is repeating the words found in the Divine Mercy image that many of us are familiar with: “Jesus, I trust in you.”
This Lent, let’s bring our hearts to the Lord and ask Him for help in growing to trust Him more and more. With openness of heart, may our prayer be: Jesus, I trust in you. As we deepen our trust in God our receptivity increases. Things that may have been blocking us from fully receiving God’s love and mercy are now removed and our hearts are more abundantly filled with the grace God freely pours out.
As we begin to think more deeply about everything that we have just reflected on let us now consider what are we committing to for this Lenten season?
The Gospel passage prompts us with these powerful words: “Repent and Believe in the Gospel.”
Our repentance begins as a movement within our heart, to acknowledge our sin, to seek to detach from it and free our hearts again to receive all that God is pouring upon us. To believe also begins as a movement of our heart. These interior works then call us to outward action. We are tasked with bringing the Gospel outward into a world in great need of God’s mercy and love, especially right now. How can we bring God’s love to those we encounter on a daily basis?
RECAP & CONCLUSION
Identify. Surrender. Receive. Commit.
Identify where you are. Be honest with yourself about what you need to let go of and surrender it to God. Receive His promises, receive His love. Commit to repentance and believing in Gospel truths. May our commitment, our prayer, and our sacrifice this Lenten season lead us closer to the One who loves us beyond our imagining. He desires to unload our burdens, to heal our pain. Let us give thanks to Him for all He has already done in our lives and, in surrender, ask Him where He is leading us next and in trust follow Him there.