The First Sunday of Lent [B]

First Reading Genesis 9:8-15
Second Reading 1 Peter 3:18-22
Gospel Mark 1:12-15

“Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

Do you ever feel that you’d enjoy a retreat from the hectic nature of life? Consider the word “retreat”. It has both positive and negative connotations. In a positive sense, especially when we speak of a place as a retreat, we’re speaking of a place of relaxation and rest. But when we use the word “retreat” as a verb, it implies some sort of weakness and defeat, at least temporarily.

Lent, as a season of our yearly Christian life, is a retreat in both senses. Today’s brief Gospel passage is only four verses long. In the first verse we hear: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert”. Reflect on the two Persons mentioned in this verse.

“The Spirit” is, of course, the Holy Spirit: the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. There are many ways to describe the Holy Spirit. One of the more famous is to describe the Holy Spirit as the Love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father. The Father and the Son are, in fact, “one in being” or “consubstantial”, in and through this very exchange of divine love. Their reciprocal, mutual Love for each other (that is, Each giving Himself to the Other) is the Third Person of the Godhead.

It is this divine Love that “drove Jesus out into the desert.” That might seem odd to say, that it was divine Love that drove Jesus into an intensely hot, arid place where for almost six weeks He faced temptations from the devil. How can such a driving force be seen as Love?

One of the verses written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved” clarifies this truth. In his first letter, St. John the Beloved Disciple declares: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and has given us His Son as a sacrificial offering for our sins.” Here is the heart of Lent and Easter: the primacy of God the Father’s Love. Before any love of ours for God—in fact, in the face of our choice to positively reject God’s love—God the Father made a choice to send His Son down from Heaven, into this world of sin, in order to be a sacrificial offering for our sins.

God the Father loves you, not in spite of your sins, but in and through your sins. God the Father, out of love for you, sent His Son into this world. The goal of this mission was for the Son to be crucified on Good Friday, so as to open the gates of Heaven for you. For His part, Jesus accepted in Love the mission His Father gave Him: the mission to be a sacrificial offering on the Cross. It’s this Love that drove Jesus into the desert, and to the top of Calvary. The Son’s total acceptance of, and self-identification with His Father’s love for you as a sinner led to that truth which we heard St. Paul proclaim in the Second Reading on Ash Wednesday: “For our sake [the Father] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21].

Lent is a retreat with Jesus into the desert of Jesus’ love for us: the love in which Jesus becomes our sins. On the one hand, this is a retreat in the negative sense, because it’s an honest admission of our human weakness and even defeat, at least temporarily. But we also retreat with Jesus into the desert because He is our Captain. This is the positive sense in which Lent is a retreat. Lent is a blessed time, even a joyful time, because here, in the desert, we are with Jesus. His Presence here makes this time in the desert a thing of beauty.

This desert is for your soul what fire is for gold: a purification. The love of your life is meant to be one with God the Father’s Love, just as Jesus’ Love is one with the Father’s Love. The Holy Spirit is meant to be the driving force of your life, driving you each day into the missions on which the Father sends you, even those that are deserts in your earthly life.