21 February 20211 Lent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
1 Lent

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
1 Lent

First Sunday of Lent: The Promise of the Rainbow

Lent begins this year with a reading from the Noah section of Genesis. If you wish to read the complete story in Genesis, you will find it from chapters six through nine. The Noah story begins with a notice of the depravity of the people. “When the Lord saw how great was man's wickedness on earth, and how no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil, he regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was grieved.” Some translations use this phrase, “God was sickened by the sins of man.” Many times we come upon some real low stuff, on TV, in the movies, on the web, and we use the phrase, “That disgusts me.” All of us are sickened by sin. God was disgusted. 

Even still, the goodness of one man, Noah, kept God from destroying mankind. He protected Noah’s family and his creation from the flood. Mankind would eventual reach salvation through water, the water of baptism. Then at the end of the story, to demonstrate that he would never destroy man again, God sets his bow in the sky.

Now, when we modern people think of a rainbow, we think of the colors. The colors were not the focus of the ancient people. Their focus was on the bow itself. They saw the bow as God’s bow and arrows. Remember, many of the ancients thought that storms and lightning were caused by various god’s losing their temper with a human and throwing thunderbolts and lightning at them. The Greeks often depicted Zeus as hurling thunderbolts. In the Noah story, the ancient Hebrews considered God as not throwing thunderbolts, but shooting them with his bow and arrow. But, now, after the flood, God hangs up his bow. He is not going to use it again. He sets his bow in the sky. Think of hitting a nail into the side of a wooden cabin and hanging the bow there. The main point is that God will not give up on man. This is the covenant with Noah and us. God will not give up on us.

And we can’t give up on ourselves. That is the real problem: very often we give up on ourselves. We have fallen in the past, and we convince ourselves that we do not have the power to fight off sin when temptation shows up. There is a pop psychology that says, basically, we do not have to take responsibility for our actions. So, a person says, "I may do this action which itself is evil, but my action is a result of forces beyond my control, rooted in my background, or in my genes. I do not have to take responsibility for my actions. Therefore I don't have to put up the fight to avoid the sin I'm tempted to commit." Closely aligned to this way of thinking is the concept that since we don't have to take responsibility for our actions, then forgiving ourselves is all that is necessary when we have done something wrong. We have to forgive ourselves, true, but we have to take responsibility for what we do and seek forgiveness from others and, ultimately, from God.

The question arises, though, "In the face of temptation, are we powerless?" If a person allows himself or herself to be exposed to an intense temptation, then his or her ability to withstand it is greatly reduced. For example, an alcoholic is tempted to drink every day of his or her life, even if it has been years since he or she had a drink. But if that person is alone on a business trip, is lonely, and goes to a bar, the temptation may be far more than the person can withstand. The person, though, is not powerless because the person can choose not to go to that bar.

Although we have the power to withstand temptation, the greatest source of our power is not within us as much as it is in the strength we receive from the Lord. People who fight off temptations do so due to the power of God. "I will set my bow in the sky as a sign of the covenant between you and me." God promised Noah and us that he will never give up on us. He loves us too much to give us up. No matter what our particular temptation in life is, we can withstand it as long as we face up to it with the Lord. We have to take responsibility for our actions. We have to recognize that we can do evil and we can hurt others. We have to pray continually. Perhaps we have to pray: "Lord, I don't want to do this. I don't want to be this way. Lord, help me." The rainbow, the sign given to Noah, is God's promise that he knows our weaknesses but will never let us go.

Although we are tempted continually, and although we may have failed in the past, we have no right to give up on ourselves. We have no right to beat our personalities into submission and consider ourselves unfit to do the right thing. No matter what mistakes we may have made, God still is there trying to keep us from falling into the same hole the third, fourth or fifth time, or seventy-seventh time. If God refuses to give up on us, then what right do we have to give up on ourselves?

Jesus was out in the desert with the wild beasts. And angels ministered to him. During Lent we reflect on what the wild beasts are in our lives. What are the particular things that devour our spiritual life? With the help of the angels, with God's love we can and will fight them off. True, we have to want to fight. We have to want to change for the better. That is what Lent is all about: spending forty days putting up the fight, fighting off the beasts, preparing to announce the Kingdom. We can do it. If we reflect on how easy it is for us to slip into our old habits, and have that negative thought that we have no chance of changing, then we have only to look at the rainbow and know that God will never give up on us. We can change. We must change. His mission for us demands it. His love for us makes it possible. 

Today we pray that this Lent we allow God to work his wonders in us as we struggle against those elements of our lives that would keep us from fulfilling God's mission for us.

Look at the rainbow. God has not given up on us. We cannot give up on ourselves.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
1 Lent

The Battle Keeps Raging

(February 21, 2021)

Bottom line: Even though we make a new beginning by the covenant with Noah and by baptism, the battle keeps raging.

Our first reading refers to the Covenant with Noah: "I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you..." This is sometimes called the rainbow covenant. God says, "I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth." It's also called the universal covenant because, according to the Bible, we all descended from Noah.

The covenant has seven precepts that apply to every human being. If you want to know what they are do a google search for the seven laws of Noah. You can also find them in the bulletin.

The big point here is that the covenant with Noah marks a new beginning for humanity. In our second reading St. Peter applies this new beginning to baptism, "a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now."

During Lent we have people preparing for baptism. After this homily we will have the rite of welcoming and enrollment. These baptism candidates are important to us because at Easter we will renew our own baptism.

Baptism has power to save us because of Jesus. He died and rose for us. And we hear today, "The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan." Jesus did battle with Satan. 

When I was in Peru, I had one book with me, "Christ vs. Satan in Our Daily Lives" by Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer. It's not an easy book. Fr. Spitzer is one of the most profound minds we have in the Catholic Church. I underlined something on almost every page. It spoke to my own struggle - and to the battle going on in every human heart.

From one point of view, the war is over. Jesus has triumphed over sin, death and the devil. However we are still in a clean-up campaign - like the cleansing of the shire at the end of Lord of the Rings. For his own reasons, God allows Satan to continue to harass us. 

In the Gospel we hear this about Jesus temptations, "He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him." Jesus faced the devil not in the full power of his divinity, but in the weakness of his humanity. He gives an example for us. We have to call on the ministry of angels. Some parishes say the St. Michael prayer at the end of Mass. "St. Michael the Angel, defend us in the battle." I recommend it to you personally and in your family.

We are in a spiritual battle. Even though we make a new beginning by the covenant with Noah and by baptism, the battle keeps raging.. Martin Luther summed it up in his hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God". Here is one stanza:

Did we in our own strength confide,

Our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side,

The Man of God's own choosing.

Dost ask who that may be?

Christ Jesus, it is he;

Lord Sabaoth is his name,

From age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.


Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
1 Lent

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
1 Lent

This year we have the final part of the story of the flood and Noah’s ark. It is a wonderful story. And every time we look at a rainbow we are reminded of God’s promise. The rainbow, that most beautiful and transient of all things, is as we have heard, a reminder of God’s covenant; the close bond he established with us after the great flood. He makes his promise not only to mankind but also to every living creature. Respect for creation is not something new; the creator himself respects the whole of creation more than we ever could.

The rainbow is a wonderful sign of God’s love because of all its wonderful colours. How does it go? Richard of York Gained Battle In Vain: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. All the colours are there and all the grades in between. And there are even colours we can’t see. This shows the breadth of God’s love. His love covers the whole range of existence and even things we are totally unaware of.

In some ancient cultures the rainbow is a sign of a weapon as in a bow and arrow; they say the rainbow is God’s bow and the lightning is his arrow. The rainbow for them is a sign of anger, but for us it is a sign of God’s love. We do enough things to provoke God’s anger, but in this great covenant God says that he will be merciful to us. Although we have sinned he will hold back his anger; instead he will love us all the more.

St Peter in the second reading sees in this water of the flood a prefigurement of Baptism. In Baptism we are washed free from our sins. Our Baptism becomes a special sign of God’s love for us individually. By Baptism he singles us out and unites us to himself by a special bond.

We are now in Lent and we think about fasting and doing penance. We read in the Gospel about Jesus spending time in the desert; he went there to be tested, and he experienced all kinds of temptations there. He emerged victorious, just as he was to emerge victorious after the greatest test of all his passion and death on the Cross.
The account of the temptation we are given in the Gospel of Mark reads almost like a telegram; it sounds staccato. There are just two verses compared to the more lengthy and fuller eleven verses of Matthew and thirteen of Luke.

Typically, the language of Mark is also a lot stronger. In both Matthew and Luke we read that Jesus was ‘led’ by the Spirit into the desert. But that’s not strong enough for Mark, no for him, the Spirit ‘drove’ Jesus out into the desert. We shouldn’t think of this as Jesus not wanting to go and so having to be driven, but rather as underlining the closeness between Jesus and the Spirit who impelled him into the desert.

Mark doesn’t bother about the content of the various temptations, he simply states the fact bluntly ‘he remained forty days, and was tempted by Satan’. The wild beasts are traditional symbols of evil and like Satan they prowl around looking for any signs of weakness.

Surprisingly there is no actual mention of fasting in this desert. But then it is probably not necessary to mention it because that’s what you would have to do anyway in a desert, unless you took along a lot of supplies which is most unlikely. There’s no 4x4 available to bring in any luxuries.

This time in the desert is a testing. And by enduring it successfully Jesus demonstrates that he is the Messiah. Both Moses and Elijah before him endured such periods of fasting and here in the desert Jesus proves that he is their true heir. The forty days is also a symbolic allusion to the forty years the Chosen People spent in the wilderness being tested by God. They spent those years of wandering in the desert in great adversity but through them learned some very hard lessons.

All testing involves privation and suffering. It involves doing without the comforts we are used to whether this be health, little luxuries or emotional supports. If all testing involves suffering then in spiritual terms we can also say that all suffering is a testing. And this is indeed so. In physical suffering we find all sorts of things removed from us that we normally consider essential for our daily life. And not only our health, but also all the comfortable routines, things and people we have around us. The test is what we put in their place; let us hope that the result will be increased faith and trust in God.

We can also undergo spiritual suffering when we experience times of doubt and darkness; these are also a testing. God seems so far away. We find it hard to place ourselves in his presence. We feel uncomfortable when the conversation turns to matters of faith. We sit in Church and wonder if all this isn’t a complete waste of time. This is a real testing. The wild beasts are prowling around us looking for our weaknesses. But, as with Jesus, the Angels are not far away. They guard us even though we are not conscious of their presence.

Any realistic person dreads being put to the test, but it is something we all have to endure. It is an essential element of our pilgrimage of faith. But you notice that even for Jesus it was for a fixed time; forty days. The good news is that there is always an end.

The Church gives us the liturgical season of Lent to help us to endure the time of testing whenever it comes. In Lent we are invited to undergo some small hardship as a spiritual exercise, as a strengthening and a preparation for that real time of testing that awaits us all. However, we don’t need to go into an actual desert; for in a sense we are already in a desert. The world is a desert for it lacks the most essential thing of all, knowledge of God.

In the desert we can place ourselves in God’s hands relying trustfully upon him. When we are tested, we remember those hidden Angels who are not so far away. When we experience these trials, we unite ourselves with Christ and ask him to endure the Temptation with us.

We then recognise that all these sufferings and difficulties we must endure are part and parcel of the life of a Christian and we know that they are only a sign of the victory that is to come. When we emerge from the desert we enter more fully into the presence of God and it will have all the beauty and more of the rainbow.

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