Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, February 22, 2015 — “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

First Sunday in Lent

Man cannot exist independently of God

First Reading
Genesis 9:8-15

God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you: all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals that were with you and came out of the ark. I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.” God added: “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.”

Second Reading
1 Peter 3:18-22

Beloved: Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

Gospel Cycle B
Mark 1:12-15

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.

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Art: Christ in the Desert by Ivan Kramskoi

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Homily From The Abbot

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

You and I must repent our sins and turn to the Lord! It is as easy as that as we begin Lent. Yet, if we have been observing Lent for many years, we know that repenting of our sins and turning to God is an ongoing task and not always an easy one! We need not fear God. God has promised His love for us and promised with an everlasting covenant in Jesus Christ that He will save us.
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Lent is about us doing our part of the Covenant. Far too often we speak of the Old and the New Testament and forget the Old Covenant and the New Covenant-in His blood. You and I have made a pact with God. He is always faithful and we are not.
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The readings today begin in Genesis, with the covenant made with Noah. We know that in the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, there were many covenants. God continues to make covenants with us today if we listen to His voice. The covenant made with Noah is made with all of us.
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The covenant made with Moses is also made with all of us. We need to hear these covenants and the stories about covenants over and over and we need to meditate on them.The second reading to day is from the First Letter of Peter, repeating the theme of the first reading: God has made a covenant with His people.
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We need to pay attention to this second reading: baptism is not a removal a dirt from the body, it is an appeal to God for a clearconscience.When we sin, it is clear that we are not seeking a goodconscience. After we sin, if we continue to seek the Lord, wecansense this desire for a clear conscience which once again desires the Lord and His holy will.
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If we listen to our conscience, we begin to understand that our conscience can be weak or it can be clear and firm. In this time of Lent, we are praying to have a good conscience, a conscience that is clear and firm, a conscience that wants to be clear now and firm in seeking the Lord.
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So we turn to the Gospel from Mark today. Jesus is driven into the desert by the Spirit. This is part of the preparation of Jesus for His ministry to His own people and to us. The forty days that Jesus spends in the desert are to be our model during these forty day of Lent: driven by the Spirit of the Church.
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If we listen attentively to the Spirit in these forty days, our lives will surely change and we will come to the end of Lent changed in many ways. Let us rely on God’s word to us and enter into these forty days with faith. We do not know what God will do to us in the forty days, but it will be for our salvation and for the salvation of others. Let us go forth to die with Him so that we may live with Him. Amen.
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Commentary on Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15 from Living Space

WE ARE NOW into the great season of Lent, when we spend six weeks preparing to celebrate the high point of our faith: the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of the Incarnate God. Formerly it was a time of severe penance as a way of purifying ourselves from our sinful habits and being ready to celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with a renewed commitment to follow him.

Even though we are no longer asked by the Church to observe the severe penances of former times, it is surely fitting that we make some of form of preparation. It should be a time for personal reflection on where we stand as Christians. Only a little reflection will convince us that, on the one hand, there are many ways in which we fail through word and action, through our thoughts and through our failure to be the kind of people that the Gospel challenges us to be.

But our reflections should not only focus on the negative. What are the positive things which should be part and parcel of my daily life? What kind of a person am I in relation to my family, friends, working colleagues and other people with whom I come in contact? How active am I as a member of my Christian community e.g. my parish? What difference do I make to other people’s lives? What do I do, within my limitations, to help eradicate the abuses which are part of our society?  These are just some of the questions I can ask myself during these six weeks. And it is never too late to get started. Let us not rigidly think that, because Ash Wednesday has already come and gone, that I cannot start today. Remember that even those who came to the vineyard at the eleventh hour were paid the same amount. But the earlier I start the better.

Some of the things I can do are:

Celebrating the Eucharist each day or at least on a few days in the week.

Setting aside some part of my day for personal prayer.

Reflecting on some Scripture, alone or, better still, with others. The Scripture readings for each

day in Lent provide excellent material.

Setting aside some money that I might spend on myself for a meal, entertainment or clothes and

giving it to an organisation which takes care of the less fortunate in our society.

Similarly, if I decide to abstain from smoking or alcohol.

Jesus’ Lent

After his baptism, Jesus goes to the desert for forty days. And, during that time, he is tested by the Evil One. Mark does not say how – but Matthew and Luke do.

These tests are really examples of the kind of tests that Jesus was to face in the course of his public life. The meaning and symbolism of the passage is to be focused on rather than its historical accuracy. Its purpose is to help us to understand the conflicts that were in Jesus’ own life and which will also be found in ours too.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/LB011/

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Art: Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness (Jésus tenté dans le désert) – Brooklyn Museum, by Tissot

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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LENT – A TIME TO RENEW THE COVENANT

SCRIPTURE READINGS: GENESIS 9:8-15; 1PETER 3:18-22; MARK 1:12-15
http://www.universalis.com/20150222/mass.htm

“Repent, and believe the Good News.”  What is this Good News?  The Good News is simply this.  God loves us and want us to share in His happiness, His life and love.  He has chosen us to be holy and blameless so that we can be His adopted sons and daughters.  Indeed, if you have been reflecting on the weekday Mass readings in these last two weeks, you would have read of the original intent of God’s creation.  God created everything and found it to be good.  God wants us to live in paradise by trusting in His love.  He desires to have full communion with us.

But man wants autonomy.  He wants to exist independently of God, which is what the Story of the Fall is all about.  Left to himself, he became confused.  He became anxious and insecure as he decided to take his life into his own hands instead of allowing God to provide for him.  Competing with his fellowmen, he was led to jealousy and even to murder.  Following the Story of the Fall, we see the progression of sin culminating in the Story of Noah and the Ark.  So evil did man become that God, for the sake of the rest of humanity, allowed the flood to wipe out the whole human race save for Noah and his family who were faithful to Him.  The flood that destroyed humanity is but the illustration of the consequences of human sins.  By not respecting nature and creation, nature unleashes its own punishment on man.   He is punished not so much by God but by his own sins and the consequences of his actions.

The flood was an attempt by God to restore mankind to its pristine stage.  Hence, we have the beginning of the Covenant with the whole of humanity.  “God spoke to Noah and his sons, See, I establish my Covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; also with every living creature to be found with you, birds, cattle and every wild beast with you: everything that came out of the ark, everything that lives on the earth. I establish my Covenant with you: nothing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the flood. There shall be no flood to destroy the earth again.”

But the tragedy is that man continues to sin.  He could not wipe the slate clean.   The failures of their ancestors continued unabated as before.  Sin and infidelity continued.   Why?

The reason is simply because of Original Sin.  What do we mean by Original Sin?  It simply means that our operating system is dysfunctional.  The human person is wounded right from within his nature.  It is not just the environment that caused him to sin, or the bad examples of others.  For this reason, even though technically, Noah and his family had a fresh start, yet the heart of man was still inclined to sin.  It was a matter of time that their selfishness and greed would be expressed anew.  Like a computer that has an outdated operating system or an infected operating system, the virus will destroy whatever data or programs that have been installed.  And even if the virus is not that deadly, the computer cannot function properly.  This, too, is the case for humanity.  We are wounded.  Our operating system is contaminated by virus.  We need to repair the operating system and we need a new program.

The Good News is that Jesus comes to restore us.  “After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God.” He comes to repair the Operating System by giving us the Spirit so that we could be restored to the kingdom.  Through His saving grace, He is going to wipe off all the virus of sins in our lives.   He is going to heal our wounded nature by giving us His grace.

How faithful indeed is our God.  We might not be faithful to Him and to the Covenant He made with us, but He remains faithful to His covenant.  He is true to His promise that He would never destroy humanity again.  “Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all generations: I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between me and the earth. When I gather the clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the Covenant between myself and you and every living creature of every kind. And so the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all things of flesh.”

How does God restore our dignity as His children?  He sent us Christ His only Son to show us how to live as authentic human persons.  Jesus as man sought to do His Father’s will.  Like every man, He was tempted.  We read in the gospel, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.”  But He did not succumb to temptation.  He resisted the Evil One and submitted to His Father so humbly even unto death.  Indeed, He overcame sin by dying to self.  “Christ himself, innocent though he was, died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God.”

The Lord wants to lead us out of our prison caused by sin and selfishness.  “In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit, he went to preach to the spirits in prison.”  In our fear of death and the need to survive, we fall into sin.  Our lives are miserable, because we cannot forgive, we cannot let go of the past, we think ill of others, we hoard and are always envious of others.  When we are full of anger, bitterness and possessiveness, we cannot be happy.  Sin enslaves us and makes us our own prisoners because we dare not let go.

During the season of Lent, the Church invites us to we renew this covenant.  As the psalmist says, “Remember your mercy, Lord, and the love you have shown from of old. In your love remember me, because of your goodness, O Lord.”  How could this covenant be renewed? 

Firstly, we need to repent and believe the Good News.  This means to accept Jesus as the way to salvation.  Jesus is the Good News in person, the Word of God and the compassion of the Father.   Like Jesus, we need to be baptized like Him.  The normal way to accept Jesus of course is through baptism, which is the gateway to grace.  Baptism is but to be reborn in the Spirit so that we become sons and daughters of God in the Son.  Just as the people during Noah’s time were saved by the waters, so, too, Christians are reborn again in the Spirit through the waters of baptism.

How could the waters of baptism save us?  St Peter says, “That water is a type of the baptism which saves you now, and which is not the washing off of physical dirt but a pledge made to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered heaven and is at God’s right hand, now that he has made the angels and Dominations and Powers his subjects.”  Through the resurrection of Christ and giving of the Holy Spirit, God uses the water to cleanse us of our sins, give us a rebirth in the Holy Spirit, thereby making us His adopted children in Christ.

But baptism is an ongoing process.   We are baptized with water once but our entire life must be given up to the significance of baptism which is to die to our sins and ourselves.  Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of His ministry is but the anticipation of His baptism of suffering and death.  Indeed, St Paul could make the link between baptism and death only because Jesus did so.   He said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!  (Lk 12:49f)  St Paul wrote “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”  (Rom 6:3f)  We are to follow Christ into the waters by dying to our sins and rising anew in the life of the Spirit.

To die to ourselves means to be freed from our sins.  Lent is a time to renew our covenant with the Lord by renouncing sin and living a righteous life in the Spirit.  As the psalmist says, “Lord, make me know your ways. Lord, teach me your paths. Make me walk in your truth, and teach me: for you are God my saviour. The Lord is good and upright. He shows the path to those who stray.  He guides the humble in the right path.  He teaches his way to the poor.”

But we cannot fight against the Evil One or overcome sins with small means.  We need to rely on God’s grace, like Jesus. “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.”  We too must ask the Holy Spirit and His angels to look after us and pray especially to St Michael to defend us against the snares of the devil. This grace is given to us in a special way through the sacrament of reconciliation, the celebration of the Eucharist, a devout contemplation on the Word of God, fasting, penance and mortifications; and prayer.   

Lent is a spring festival.  It is the beginning of new life.  So if we want to celebrate this new life, then we must be receptive to the graces that God is going to give us, as St Paul wrote,  “As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.  For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’  See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”

– See more at: http://www.csctr.net/reflections/#sthash.fmTaMBft.dpuf

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The Temptation of Christ by  Ary Scheffer (1854)
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From Peace and Freedom
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In order to emulate Jesus and to clean out all distractions from their lives, people have been seeking the solitude and serenity in the desert with ray for centuries.
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We of the 21st Century don’t need to go into isolation in the desert to achieve a new awakening. We all have the forty days of Lent for the express purpose of a housecleaning, repentance and prayer.
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By the fourth century A.D., devout Christians–men and women alike–had begun to retreat from cities and villages to the deserts of North Africa and Asia Minor, where they sought liberation from their corrupt society and the confining shell of the social self. The Desert Fathers is the perfect introduction to the stories and sayings of these heroic pioneers of the contemplative tradition.
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Selected and translated by Helen Waddell, The Desert Fathers opens a window onto early Christianity while presenting us with touchingly human models of faith, humility, and compassion. With a new Preface by the Cistercian monk, writer, and revered teacher of contemplative prayer M. Basil Pennington, author of O Holy Mountain and Challenges in Prayer.
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“God is our home but many of us have strayed from our native land.  The venerable authors of these Spiritual Classics are expert guides–may we follow their directions home.”
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–Archbishop Desmond Tutu
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There are dozens of great books about the Desert Dathers and how we too can use solitude to improve our lives in this rat race world.
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