Reflections

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, FEBRUARY 21, 2021

REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL
Greeting (cf. the Gospel)
The Lord Jesus is among us today
and speaks his word to us:
“The right time is now:
the kingdom of God is close at hand.
Repent, and believe the Good News.”
May we listen to his word
and may he always be with you. R/ And with your spirit.
 
Introduction
Repent and Believe the Good News
As we begin Lent, the urgent message addressed to us today is: “Repent! Have a change of heart, be converted!” But who likes to change one’s habits, one’s mentality, one’s lifestyle? We’d rather be left alone and go our old ways. Even Jesus was driven by the Spirit – yes, by the Spirit! – to the desert to be tempted there, to see with clear eyes who he was and what was his task and how people and events would try to turn him away from his mission. But Jesus was stronger than temptation and sin. May his Spirit convert us to be what we are called to be and to do what we have to do as Christians. May he help us to overcome our temptations and make us stronger than sin.
 
Penitential Act
Let us pray to the Lord our God
that we may not give in to temptation.
(pause)
 
Jesus, you were tempted in the desert.
Help us by your strength
to overcome temptations
and to remain faithful to you.
Lord, have mercy. R/ Lord, have mercy.
 
Jesus, you died for our sins.
Keep our faith and our love alive,
that we may serve God and people with you.
Christ, have mercy. R/ Christ, have mercy.
 
Jesus, the Father’s will was your life.
Attune us to God’s plan
for us and for the world.
Lord, have mercy. R/ Lord, have mercy.
 
God, give us the grace to repent
and be merciful to us.
Convert us to you and to people
and lead us to everlasting life. R/ Amen.
 
Opening Prayer
Let us pray that during this Lent
we may turn fully to God and to people
(pause)
 
God of the covenant of love,
you invite us to follow your Son.
As the Holy Spirit led him to the desert,
may he open our eyes to see
the wastelands of evil
we have created in our world.
Help to pray in solitude,
to feel our hunger for all that is good
and to overcome our temptations.
May we learn from Jesus
to believe in the Good News
and to give shape to your Kingdom
of truth and justice and unselfish love.
We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. R/ Amen.
 
First Reading: God’s Covenant with Noah
We have God’s promise that he will never destroy the work of his hands. His covenant is steadfast, as the rainbow reminds us.
 
1 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: the birds, the tame animals, and all the wild animals that were with you—all that came out of the ark. I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth. God said: This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come: 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 remember my covenant between me and you and every living creature—every mortal being—so that the waters will never again become a flood to destroy every mortal being.
 
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.
 
Make known to me your ways, LORD;
teach me your paths.
Guide me by your fidelity and teach me,
for you are God my savior,
for you I wait all the day long. R.
 
Remember your compassion and your mercy, O LORD,
for they are ages old.
Remember no more the sins of my youth;
remember me according to your mercy,
because of your goodness, LORD. R.
 
Good and upright is the LORD,
therefore he shows sinners the way,
He guides the humble in righteousness,
and teaches the humble his way. R.
 
Second Reading; One with Christ by Baptism
To discouraged Christians, Peter writes: Christ too has gone through suffering and death, but he is risen. You are one with him by baptism and he will save you.
 
2 Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22
For Christ also 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, 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 Acclamation: Matthew 4:4b
Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
 
Gospel: Repent and Believe
Jesus sums up his mission in the words: “This is the right time… Repent and believe the Good News.” He speaks these words to us today.
 
Gospel: Mark 1:12-15
At once the Spirit drove him 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.”
 
Commentary
We must admit our sins and seek Jesus’ help to turn away from them.
Piri Thomas wrote a book called Down These Mean Streets. It describes his conversion from being a convict, a drug addict, and an attempted killer to becoming an exemplary Christian.
One night Piri was lying on his cell bunk in prison. Suddenly it occurred to him what a mess he’d made of his life. He felt an overwhelming desire to pray. But he was sharing the cell with another prisoner called “the thin kid”. So he waited.
After he thought “the thin kid” was asleep, he climbed out of his bunk, knelt down on the cold concrete, and prayed. He said:
“I told God what was in my heart…. I talked to him plain … no big words…. I talked to him of my wants and lacks, of my hopes and disappointments…. I felt like I could even cry . . . something I hadn’t been able to do for years.”
After Piri finished his prayer, a small voice said, “Amen.” It was “the thin kid”. “There we were,” Piri said, “he lying down, head on bended elbows, and I still on my knees. No one spoke for a long while. Then the kid whispered, ‘I believe in Dios also.’”
The two young men talked a long time. Then Piri climbed back into his bunk. “Good night, Chico,” he said. “I’m thinking that God is always with us—it’s just that we aren’t with him.”
That story is a beautiful illustration of what Jesus means in today’s gospel when he says, “Reform your lives and believe in the gospel!” That’s the New American Bible version of that verse.
Jesus’ instruction contains two points. The first is to “reform” our lives. The second is to “believe in the gospel.’’ Let’s begin with the first point: the reform of our lives.
“To reform” means to recognize the evil in our lives and to turn our back on it. It means to face up to sin in our lives and to turn away from it.
It means to imitate Piri Thomas, who admitted the mess he’d made of his life and decided to do something about it.
All of us can relate to Piri Thomas’ experience. We too are aware of the evil tendencies that occasionally mess up our lives.
For example, we are aware of selfishness that puts our comfort ahead of others’ needs. We are aware of pride that keeps us from admitting our faults. We are aware of laziness that keeps us from helping others.
‘To reform” means TO FACE UP to these evil tendencies in our lives and TO DO SOMETHING about them.
This brings us to the second point of Jesus’ instruction. Besides reforming our lives, Jesus tells us to “believe in the gospel.”
This means to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he came to save us. It means to seek out Jesus, especially in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and to receive from him forgiveness and healing.
It means to do what Piri Thomas did after he saw the evil in his life. He turned to God for help. He believed in the “good news” that God had sent Jesus into the world to save sinners like him-self.
Some time ago author Kilian McDonnell made a keen observation about conversion. It came in response to this question: Why are some evangelical preachers so successful in effecting conversions?
For one thing, says McDonnell, they follow Jesus’ instruction in today’s gospel. They get people to admit they are sinners, and they help people turn to Jesus for salvation.
“Many [people] do not recognize Christ, because they do not recognize themselves as sinners. If I am not a sinner, then I have no need of Christ.’’
McDonnell concludes, saying:
“No man will celebrate the mystery of Christ in joy if he does not first recognize in sorrow that he is a sinner.”
Today’s gospel invitation touches on both of those important points. It invites us to admit we are sinners, and to turn to Jesus for salvation.
This brings us to a concluding observation. Today’s gospel invitation makes a perfect introduction to Lent.
Down through the centuries, Christians have found the season of Lent to be a time of special grace, especially for reforming one’s life.
If we are looking for a special way to celebrate Lent this year, we could do no better than to use it as an opportunity to rediscover the power and peace of the sacrament of Reconciliation.
For in this sacrament we do what Jesus invites us to do. We acknowledge our sinfulness and accept him as our personal saviour.
Let’s close by reflecting on a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It describes Paul’s own experience of his sinfulness and his own acceptance of Jesus as saviour.
 
Intercessions
Let us answer the call of Christ our Lord to repent and to believe in the Good News. Let us say:
R/ Lord, hear the cries of your people.
– For the community of the Church, that it may let the Spirit renew it all the time, reject the temptations of power and greed, and bring Good News of God’s forgiveness to all, let us pray:
R/ Lord, hear the cries of your people.
– For those who have stopped practicing their faith, that they may find the way back to church, and return to the Lord and his gospel, let us pray:
R/ Lord, hear the cries of your people.
– For people facing important choices in life, that they may choose the ways of justice and love, and in everything seek the Lord’s will, let us pray:
R/ Lord, hear the cries of your people.
– For young people and adults who are preparing for baptism and for those who help them in this preparation, that the Lord may give them peace and joy, let us pray:
R/ Lord, hear the cries of your people.
– For those who are passing through deserts of suffering, failures and disappointments, that the Spirit may give them the strength to overcome their troubles, let us pray:
R/ Lord, hear the cries of your people.
 
Lord our God, touch the heart of each and all of us to make us turn fully to you and to live the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. R/ Amen.
 
Prayer over the Gifts
God our Father,
the bread and wine we bring before you
come from your hands
and you will give them once more to us
as bread and drink of eternal life.
Take us too; accept us the way we are,
but let us not go away from this meal
before you have changed us more
into the likeness of Jesus, your Son and our brother.
We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. R/ Amen.
 
Introduction to the Eucharistic Prayer
During Lent we may always use the Eucharistic Prayers of Reconciliation.
With Jesus among us what have we to fear? Let us praise and thank our Father for giving us Jesus the Lord.
 
Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer
Moved by the Spirit of Jesus,
let us pray to the Father of all
that he may give us the strength
to resist all the temptations
of greed, power and self-conceit. R/ Our Father…
 
Deliver Us
Deliver us, Lord, from all temptations
to keep our old selfish ways,
for they lead us only to the evil of sin.
Make us strong in the trials of life
and confirm us in the joy
of knowing that you love and accept us
and that you rely on us to prepare in hope
the full coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ. R/ For the kingdom…
 
Invitation to Communion
This is Jesus our Lord
who went through our trials and temptations
to make us free for God and one another.
Happy are we to receive him
as our joy and our courage. R/ Lord, I am not worthy…
 
Prayer after Communion
Loving and patient God,
we thank you for Jesus your Son.
He has spoken to us words of peace,
of forgiveness and encouragement.
He has given us himself as our food.
Let him be our companion on the road
that we may not stumble and fall,
but that he may lead us through trials and lapses
on the ways of conversion to you and to people.
May we also support one another
by the power of Jesus Christ our Lord. R/ Amen.
 
Blessing
In this Eucharist we have celebrated
God’s covenant with us
into which we have entered through baptism.
But let us never forget that his bond
commits us also to our brothers and sisters.
We are responsible for one another.
May no need remain unnoticed,
no cry fall on deaf ears,
no hand be extended in vain.
Perhaps the conversion we need most is
to discover our neighbour and to turn to him or her.
May God help and bless you all:
the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. R/ Amen.
 
Go in the peace and the love of Christ. R/ Thanks be to God.

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