Sunday Scripture Readings

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT,

MARCH 9

Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25;

1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

OUR GOOD NEWS: God, eager to forgive and forget, invites our Lenten recommitment as his Son's disciples. What is the purpose of Lent? However important, Lent is not primarily about "repentance" in the sense of fasting, prayer and mortification, but "repentance" in the sense of conversion - change of values, ideals and ambitions. More simply, Lent is time to prepare ourselves for the climactic act of recommitment. Lent focuses on one particular act during Holy Saturday liturgy, our annual solemn renewal of baptismal vows. The whole of Lent is for our getting ready for this crucially important gesture. Today's psalm is an exquisite penitential prayer that sets a healthy rather than morbid tone for the Lenten observance. We pray as individuals, humbly acknowledging human insufficiency and our radical dependence upon God. Only His will matters; but He must "teach - guide, make known - the ways and paths," the total lifestyle He commands. We need content (information), but especially empowerment (grace) to live as God wants. Lent is the season for begging God to "remember" and to "forget," each time for our advantage. God's forgiving acceptance and fidelity in sticking to His generous promises are "from of old," unchangeable and reliable (like the rainbow of the first reading.) Our plea for pardon rests exclusively on God's loving nature rather than on human merits. The gathered community enthusiastically shares what it has experienced. God is not only "good" but "upright" - fair and evenhanded toward all creatures but particularly toward us "sinners" who desperately need empowering guidance to repent and return. Such humble persons He instructs in "justice," the way things ought to be, the lifestyle befitting God's people. "Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth, to those who keep your covenant." This responsorial verse summarizes the entire psalm and can serve as our Lenten motto. On the one hand, all dealings of the Lord with his people are characterized by loyalty to his covenant promises ("love, truth"). But freewill gifts must be accepted - uncooperative children can't attend or enjoy the circus. Without doing our part, living as God wills, all attempts to bless become frustrated. The penitent speaking in this psalm exemplifies a healthy Lenten spirit, realistic humility coexisting with personal dignity and self-respect. A lonely person who still senses God's friendship, his or her personal piety grows through a dialectic of contrite sorrow that opens ever-new vistas revealing God's boundless fidelity and goodness. We have God's solemn word, ratified ("signed") with His rainbow, never to give us what our sins deserve. God's word to Noah, and Jesus' death, prove He intends all suffering ultimately to serve loving purposes rather than for punishment.

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