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First Sunday of Lent: Perceiving the sign

Today’s readings: Genesis 9, 8-15; 1 Peter 3, 18-22; Mark 1, 12-15.

In religion very often we seem to be more concerned with what we can say or believe about God rather than with what God actually has to tell us. Lent is always an opportune time to put ourselves in the right perspective and to seek God’s voice because what He says about us is more sensible than what we say about Him.

We are reminded today that what the Scriptures mainly narrate is a love story between God and humanity. This is made manifest in the first reading where reference is made to the flood narrative at the time of Noah. God intervenes after the tempest to establish His loving covenant with humanity and to guarantee enduring peace and harmony.

The flood stands for the upheavals we go through in life and the rainbow is the sign of God’s peace in spite of the turmoil. ‘Flooding’ will constantly mark our lives and we cannot escape that. What we can do is to be on the lookout for the sign of the rainbow in our life because God is the only constant in the flux of change around and within us.

God never promises heaven on earth. He promises His presence, which is empowering and healing, transforming and redeeming. This is the message underlying even today’s gospel narrative of the temptations of Jesus in the desert. In Jesus, God’s project for us all is made manifest when in his gospel St Mark tells us that Jesus “was with the wild beasts and the angels looked after him”.

The ‘wild beasts’ – the tempting Satan – will always be part and parcel of our daily life and of our earthly existence. But according to the promise made to Noah in the first reading, “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all things of flesh”. It is God’s covenant with us that can really change our stories.

We will all continue for a lifetime to carry within us the old self, seeking always ‘to do it my way’. But we cannot simply and always listen to our own self or whims. Narcissism can be spiritual too, and in our interior journeys this can be tragic.

Lent can put us in search mode for God in our ‘interior castle’; it can make us discover much more in depth who we are and what our predicaments really are. It is God who created us and it is in Him that we can find our wholeness. True conversion is not about acknowledging our sins with the hope of then reaching out to God. It works the other way round. It is when we encounter God that we acknowledge meaningfully our sinfulness, which then becomes an open window towards the infinite.

In her The Revelations of Divine Love, written around 1395, Julian of Norwich, an English Christian mystic, writes: “God showed that sin shall not be a shame to man but a glory. For just as every sin brings its own suffering, by truth, so every soul that sins earns a blessing by love”. Not easy for us to understand, given that many a time our sinfulness is simply seen as the dark side of the soul, surfacing every now and then but with a feeling of not knowing how to cope.

Lent is not about what we ought to do to please God. The more we preach the wrong notion of conversion, the less credible and realistic we become. We should be honest enough not to speak of change when we know that change is not going to happen. In this sense, the “Repent” of Jesus in the gospel, proclaimed to us at the beginning of Lent, is not to be interpreted only in a narrow, religious meaning.

To certain extents we all personally know our character, our tastes and what is tempting in our life. Year after year these traits remain the same. ‘Repent’ is meant to put us on the right standpoint from where to perceive more clearly the rainbow sign that penetrates the clouds and the different layers that continue to bury our own true self underneath.

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