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The 1st Sunday of Lent Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

This is a grace filled season. This is a calm and holy season. This is the richest season of the liturgical year. This is a season of a road to glory and everlasting joy. Lent just started this year and today is the first Sunday of Lent. What is the first thing that comes to your minds when you hear the word, “Lent”? Discipline? Self-denial? Passion and Death of Jesus? Giving-up? Penitential act? Cleanliness? Sacrifice? Reflection? Yes. They are all good images or practices that enrich the season of Lent and grow us in faith and draw us closer to God. But Lent is originally associated with baptism.

Lent means springtime. Therefore, it is meant to be the springtime of our faith in the Spirit. Lent has a connotation that it’s springtime when a new life is ready to be born. Lent was originally designed to be the period of the intensified preparation for catechumens. During Lent, for 40 days, catechumens prepare for the sacraments of Initiation that are granted on Easter Vigil: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. They are reborn with new life through the sacraments. Meantime, we, the baptized, are asked to walk with them and finally experience one of the greatest moments of the year-the renewal of our baptismal promises. Pope John Paul II said, “It is no exaggeration to say that the entire existence of the lay faithful has as its purpose to lead a person to a knowledge of the radical newness of the Christian life that comes from Baptism.”

Therefore, the renewal of Baptismal promises is the goal of Lent. Every penitential practice in Lent must lead us to this climax of Easter Vigil, the renewal of Baptismal promises. If we go to confession in Lent, we are reminded of one of the baptismal promises, “Do you reject Satan? I do. And all his works? I do. And all his empty promises? I do.” When we walk on the Lenten journey with almsgiving, prayers, and fasting, we allow our Father to enliven and increase our faith. This dependable faith is the authentic faith and the best context where the renewal of our baptismal promises is rooted. When we reflect on Jesus’ Passion and Death during Lent, we are reminded of the spiritual meaning of baptism: the Passover from our death to life, and from passion to joy. We are heading for this goal for forty days in Lent.

The first reading echoes this analogical prefigurement of our baptism when God made a covenant with Noah and his descendants after the great flood. “See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you.” This covenant that God made with every creature is symbolic of our Baptism according to St. Peter in the second reading. He says, “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.” God saved Noah’s family, the righteous through the water, and God is saving us through the baptism of water. The covenant between God and Noah is a life-giving promise that we make in our baptisms.

How abundant is the redeeming grace of baptism! How rich is the water of baptism? But we are asked to go through the desert experience that Jesus walked in today’s Gospel as we begin our own journey to this full, life-giving destination. The Desert is a place of dryness, aridity, barrenness, emptiness, and heat. There is no water and no food in the desert so there is no trace of life. That is where Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit and tempted. “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” While the water of baptism in the first two readings tells us where our baptism leads us to, the desert of temptation shows us where our baptism takes us from. There is no life before our Baptism, but baptism leads us to the everlasting covenant with God.

Baptism changes everything. Today’s reading should be reflected in the light of baptism. There is a story about Jesus’ baptism before today’s Gospel. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist and a voice comes down from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” At the Jordan, God declares His special covenant relationship with Jesus and proclaims Him as the Son whom He is well pleased. God’s chosen Son, in His obedience, will fulfill His messianic mission. This mission is accomplished through his entire life which is culminated in the Paschal Mystery of Passion and Death and glorious Resurrection. This baptismal moment is deeply related to Jesus’ mission accomplishment which leads to the New Covenant.

Our Lenten journey has its goal in the New Covenant through our baptism. God’s Spirit leads us to a 40-day retreat, the desert experience including the temptation by Satan. We stay strong in faith in God in dry and barren wilderness. After we go through the dry experience, the water of our Baptism brings us the richness and joyfulness of God’s new covenant. The renewal of the baptismal promises that we are going to profess at the Easter Vigil becomes redeeming when we live the faithful life in the desert for 40 days. This is where we are invited as we begin the first Sunday of Lent. Let us give thanks to God in this mass, for giving us an opportunity to experience the desert and leading us to the renewal of our everlasting baptismal covenant. 

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