February 18, 2024 –
The First Sunday of Lent
Fr. Jacob Carlin
In the Gospel today we hear the timeless phrase for Lent: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” It seems natural in this season to repent and sacrifice. There is something about it that drives us to desire discipline and self-control as we meditate on the passion of our Lord.
However, I think that sometimes we forget the second part of the phrase “believe in the Gospel.” For me, and maybe some of you have experienced these pitfalls as well, lent feels like this time where I must accomplish something. If for some reason I cannot accomplish it, I feel like a failure.
Wow, it shouldn’t be that hard to avoid social media, I should be able to watch less television, I should be able to avoid sweets, the list can go on. When I don’t succeed, I feel unworthy. It feels like God will love me less, like he will be disapproving and disappointed in me. I cannot even repent of these small bad habits.
From this perspective Lent, instead of being a time for renewal and refreshment in the Christian life, can be filled with dread. Luckily, the scriptures today remind of a deep, meaningful reality of God’s covenant. Listen how he speaks to Noah in the first reading about the covenant, and how the responsorial psalm recalls the blessings of those who keep his covenant.
Hear again the words of St. Paul in the second reading who is speaking of the new covenant sealed with the Blood of Christ and the salvation that he has won for us. That now, in the new covenant, baptism saves us from our sins and gives us new life. Then Jesus cries out in the Gospel “now is the time of fulfillment.” Such a powerful and consoling message that God has defeated sin and has established his reign on the earth.
This context of covenant reveals to us a more authentic way of viewing Lent. Our desire is to live in unity with God, to live the covenant. What is this covenant of God like? The psalm speaks to us of its characteristics. We hear that the covenant is characterized by compassion, kindness, goodness, uprightness, love, and truth. To hear this and take it to heart is to believe in the Gospel.
Our repentance is necessary then as a prerequisite to living in the covenant. We fail so often to live in the covenant, to imitate the example of Jesus who revealed to us in his human nature a life lived in perfect union with the Father, a life lived in the covenant.
The goal is not to get caught up in our self-denial and discipline, but to believe that conversion is possible. This is the good news, we are not trapped but our sins, they do not define us, God is offering us something new and different. A huge blessing in all of this is that God is always faithful. Even if we fail, even if we turn away, he will remain. This is a comforting truth for us, the faithfulness of God.
Hopefully Lent can be less of a time to feel like I need to earn God’s love, and more of a time to believe in his promises. Our discipline and sacrifice are but a means to clear our lives of the things that prevent us from loving God with all our heart. To get rid of the things that keep us from imitating the example of our loving Savior and to believe in the Gospel. When we believe in the Gospel we are drawn to live in covenant with God, and so we grow in our capacity to accept his love and imitate Christ’s example. Heavenly Father, help us to trust in your promises, help us to live in the Covenant, help to believe in the Gospel.