First Sunday of Lent
Rite of Election
14th February, 2016
Deut 26:4-10; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13
For every Christian, the life of faith is a journey. It is a continued response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to take the next step towards a closer relationship with Jesus and through him with the Father. We seldom travel alone, but make our progress with the Spirit of God within us, and in the company of others who offer their example, encouragement and inspiration.
Some start this journey with their baptism in infancy, while others are drawn to the faith later in life. It is for those who feel called by God to embrace the faith as adults, that the process called ‘The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults’ has been designed.
Lent is an important step on the journey for these adults seeking to be baptised, and for those already baptised in other Christian traditions, who seek to join the Catholic Church at Easter, whom we warmly welcome here today. In the early centuries of the Church, Lent was seen as a time of beginning. It was – and again now is – a time for forming new converts, preparing them for their formal entry into the Church community by baptism and confirmation during the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at the Easter Vigil. Today, in fact, is their day of Election. Our catechumens are entering the last six weeks of preparation for Baptism and Confirmation and our candidates are similarly preparing for their Profession of Faith and Confirmation in the Catholic Church.
Lent has always been one of the key periods of the Church year and it would be a great pity if we were to forget its real meaning. In fact, that is what we ask for in the Opening Prayer today, that we be helped to understand the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus and helped to reflect it in our lives.
Really, the whole purpose of Lent is beautifully summarised in that prayer – to understand the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus and to live that out in our own lives. The period of Lent is six weeks to help all of us to do precisely that.
For those of us who are already baptised, it can equally be a new beginning. Often we prefer to stay with the known and the familiar, even though it does not give us great satisfaction. We can settle into a routine kind of Christianity that goes on basically unchanged from year to year. It is not very inspiring but we stick with it rather than risk the unknown that radical conversion can bring.
In the First Reading of today’s Mass, the Israelites are at the end of their forty years wandering in the desert and Moses prepares them for their new life in the Promised Land. The forty days of Lent correspond to Jesus’ own forty days spent in the desert. For him, it was a period of preparation for his coming mission.
Traditionally on this First Sunday of Lent, the Gospel speaks of the temptations of Jesus in the desert. Jesus has just completed his forty days of preparation in the desert and he now faces one more test before he begins his mission.
We should perhaps see the temptations of Jesus, as three key areas where he was tempted to compromise his mission. They were not just passing temptations of the moment, but temptations with which he was beset all through his public life. Clearly, in varying forms, these temptations of Jesus can come into our lives too.
These temptations are dangerous for us, because they can create a world and a society in which everyone has to compete to get as much for themselves as they can. Contrary to that, the Kingdom that Jesus came to build has a different set of values altogether.
This is what today’s Gospel is about. This is what Lent means, as a time of reflection, and a time of re-evaluating the quality and direction of our lives. It is a time for reconsidering our priorities both as Christians and human beings. A time when, through prayer, we ask for God's enlightenment on where our lives need to change and we pray for the strength to be able to make the change.
Before we leave today’s Gospel, let us not overlook its final sentence: “The devil left him to return at the appointed time.” The battle with evil was not over for Jesus. It will occur again and again at various stages in his life, right up to and especially at those last hours in the Garden and on the Cross-.
For us, too, the battle against evil never stops.
Our only real success in life can be what we achieve in building a society that is more loving and just, based on the message of Jesus, a message of truth and integrity, of love and compassion, of freedom and peace.
That is why we need this purifying period of Lent every year. If, in past years, we let it go by largely unnoticed, let this year be different.
The word “Lent” is an old English word that means “springtime.” May this Lent really be a new springtime in the lives of each of us.
Lent is for refocussing, transforming, giving a new love of God and neighbour through prayer, self-denial and works of love. Let us take the challenge earnestly and generously and move forward together.