First Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent 2009

Today’s Readings


When I was a teenager growing up in St. Patrick’s Church in Glen Cove, Long Island, one of the ordinary characteristics of our Lenten journey each Lent [was that] we had a parish mission. And those of you of my age might have remembered those – it would have been either a priest of the Passionist Monastery , or a Vincentian priest, or a Franciscan priest, who would come to the parish in order to make sure that Lent was very special, to enter into the journey of Lent and to encourage us.

One year – I was about 15 years of age – they invited a Father of Mercy. I had never ever heard of that order, but it happened that the priest that came to give the retreat was a Father of Mercy. And the reason I clicked with it is that the date of the retreat was the exact same Gospel that we read today. And I remembered it vividly. And I have to tell you that this Irish priest with his very adorable brogue had us spellbound. He was an extraordinarily good preacher. And I remembered it vividly because at the end he said “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to give all of you the opportunity to come to confession. I’ll be available back there. Come and see me.”

So I was so inspired, I was so animated, I said “I’m going to go to confession.” And off I went, and I was the first one in line. And I went in and I confessed some embarrassing impulses and thoughts that I had, as would be characteristic of a 15 year old boy.

And he simply said to me, “Well man, did you entertain those thoughts?”

I said, “Well Father, I didn’t entertain them, but boy sure did they entertain me!”

In many ways, sin entertains us. Sin is not a horrible, terrible evil thing, oh my goodness! Rather, sin is rather appealing. And in the first reading from Genesis, what was happening — what was going on, the context — was that the people were engaged in sin. They had turned their back on the Lord, and were entering into the evils of their time. Noah was attempting to call them to task. He was saying, “What are you doing. What is going on here?” He was patient – he didn’t scream at them, he didn’t condemn them, but he was calling them to task.

And while he did it, he patiently built an ark. He gathered large timbers, and he began to assemble those timbers, and to put them together, with the proper way of doing it. And he spread tar on the timbers, and very patiently he gathered together the animals and the beasts, and everything on earth, two by two, he took them into the ark. And what happened was that the ark was sealed, and it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and the earth was washed clean. It was purified, it was made holy, it was reconsecrated, it was made sacred to God again.

That is what these forty days are about. We are in the ark of the Lord, and the waters of baptism are going to wash us clean again. But I say to you that the only way that the waters can wash you clean is if you all it to course over your body. If you allow it to wash you, if you take the soap and you put it on your body, and you take the cloth or the brush and scrub, you are made clean.

As a young man, my mother said to me, “Get in there and take your bath”. And I was not particularly enamored of taking my bath. So I went in and I ran the water like a banshee – it was running like crazy. And in within a few minutes, my father came in and there I was sitting on the edge of the tub, with the water going like a banshee.

And I said, “How did you know?”

He said, “I know everything. Now get in that tub!”

We have to get in the tub! We have to get in the tub, and take the soap and use it. We have to take the cloth or the brush and cleanse ourselves. That is what the 40 days are all about – cleansing and purifying and changing and making whole. Sin entertains us. Sin is captivating. Sin is fun. So we are challenged then to re-think, and re-work.

How do we do it? Well we do it by prayer, entering into a prayful relationship with our loving God. Does it mean that we never pray? No, but honestly can our prayers can become so routine that they almost lose their spark, their luster? How well I can remember saying the rosary: “Hailmaryfullofgrace, thelordiswiththee, blessedarethouamonstwomen, blahblah”, 200 miles an hour. What is that? Slow down, mister! Savor the words, let them speak to you. We can inadvertently allow things to become careless and routine. Prayer – vital and important.

Secondly, fasting. One of the things that I think are essential to change behavior is disciplining ourselves so that we do things in a slightly different way. On Wednesday, a man came to me, a little bit on the heavy side, and he said, “Father, I just want to say this to you publicly, because I am saying this to everybody. I’m committing myself to fasting for Lent.”

He said, “Father, it is spiritually good, but I have to take some of this weight off. That’s all there is to it.”

And I said, “God will bless you. What a wonderful, wonderful thing.”

So I saw him on Ash Wednesday. He came over to the rectory on Saturday and rang the bell, and he said, “I have good things to report and I have bad things to report.”

And I said, “Let’s share, let’s talk a little bit – how did it go?”

“Father, Wednesday was great – my resolve was strong and I could feel my strength. Thursday was good, I succeeded. Friday came and I accidently drove past the bakery that I was trying to avoid – it was an accident, I didn’t mean to do it. When I found myself in front of the bakery, I said to myself, ‘Lord, if your Holy Spirit opens up a spot in front of the bakery, I’ll just pull over’.”

“Father, after nine trips around the block, a spot opened, and I went into the bakery and bought the biggest éclair you’d ever want to see.”

It is violating the spirit of what he said. How often our intentions are good, but our follow-through is weak. This is a human thing, and I think each Sunday of Lent we have to challenge ourselves and say how did it go from Ash Wednesday, to Thursday to Friday, to yesterday, and where am I at today, and what am I going to do tomorrow, tonight, et cetera.

One of the things I am trying to offer here to each and every one of us, including myself: we are presenting Stations of the Cross. Every Friday, the 12 o’clock Mass — immediately after we have Stations. Every Friday, from 7 until 8, we have Stations. It happens this Friday is the first Friday of the month, devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Sacred Heart of Mary. So what I am going to be doing this Friday: exposing the Holy Most Blessed Sacrament, we will journey together for the 14 stations, and we will have a wonderful opportunity of prayer. Now, obviously it is not obligatory to go to the Stations of the Cross, but wouldn’t that be a wonderful Lenten sacrifice, and a way of growing?

Tonight, I’m going to be giving a presentation on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I’m going to be talking about the Bible and its source of inspiration and strength. Now, nobody is obligated to come, but maybe if you are hanging around watching boring television shows from 7 to 8, be bored by me –right here. From 6 to 7, be bored by me. It will be a wonderful thing. And then tomorrow, I’m doing the same thing for the old crowd like me. For us older folks who have difficulty getting out at night, from 11 to 12.

The point is, that if Lent has meaning, if these 40 days have meaning, if we are going to get into the ark for the 40 days, so that at the end of the 40 days, the ark settles upon the land, it opened up and the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and all the wild creatures, and they were cleansed and purified, and they entered with great joy on a earth that was cleansed and purified. In 40 days, you and I are going to join together on Easter Sunday. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us were cleansed and purified and made whole? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if on Easter Sunday we can feel the resurrection because we will rise with Jesus when our time is complete?

I pray that, for me and for each and every one of you, that this be a Lenten season in which you enter into the season by prayer, by fasting, and by almsgiving. And let me promise you that if you enter into the joy and the sorrow of this season, you will be blessed by God, and you will find on Easter Sunday the joy and happiness in your heart will elevate you and lift you up, because you will experience the happiness and joy of his resurrection, which will bless you again, and again, and again.