Sunday Sermon for February 26, 1012, the First Sunday of Lent, Year B

Readings: Gen 9:8-15; 1Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15

In the Gospel we are told about our Lord preaching the message that it was the time of fulfillment and that the Kingdom of God was at hand. For these reasons the people were to repent and believe in the Gospel. It is important to note the context of these statements. Jesus had just spent forty days and forty nights in the desert being tempted, John the Baptist had just been arrested, and now He is going to preach about the need for repentance and belief.

In God’s providence the greatest goods very often follow from very difficult circumstances. We have probably all experienced this pattern in our own lives. It makes perfect sense: if you are going to move forward, you have to remove yourself from whatever holds you back. Spiritually speaking we can also say that any attachments have to be broken in order to proceed to the next level.

Even though Jesus did not have any attachments, the time in the desert was still a time of intense preparation for the ministry He was to undertake. It also serves as a pattern for the Mystical Body, for the Church, to know how God works in our individual lives as well as in the Church and in the world as a whole.

This pattern in clear throughout Scripture. In the first reading we hear about God establishing a new covenant with Noah after He had survived the flood and was back on dry land. We see it over and over again with the people of Israel, we have seen it hundreds of times in the history of the Church, and we even see it as a reality after this life is over. In the second reading St. Peter tells us about Jesus who, after His death but before His resurrection, went in the Spirit to preach to the spirits “in prison,” that is, those who were in Sheol or the netherworld.

Of course, even now, before we can get into Heaven we must be purified. Those purifications occur in this life though prayer, penance, works of charity and suffering. They also occur after this life if necessary, as the souls in Purgatory can attest. In each case, God prepares the soul for the grace He intends to give it by emptying the soul of what is not of God and then filling it with Himself.

In this purification and preparation God will always use the most perfect means to accomplish what is needed. In the readings today we hear about a flood which covered everything so that there was only water and no dry land. On the other hand we hear about the desert where there is only dry land and no water. God will use the extremes when He has to but also everything in between. Most of the time when He is purifying us, it will seem to us that what is occurring is extreme. This is because it is the most perfect way to deal with us and with the particular weakness, sin or problem that needs to be overcome.

What we do notice is that the more extreme the circumstances of the purification are the greater will be the good that comes on the other side of the suffering. This should not only help us in considering the penance we choose for Lent but also help us to gauge what God is doing in our lives, in the Church or in the world. This is important today where we are witnessing so much chaos and suffering on every level. From all indications it has only just begun.

The world is becoming increasingly hostile toward the Church. As more and more people fall away from the Church the attacks on the faithful increase: interior doubts, loneliness, darkness, lack of consolation coupled with exterior ridicule, persecutions, questions and so on. If we are going to embrace the fullness of the truth we are going to be in the vast minority. It may cause us to wonder, doubt or question, but it will also give us an opportunity to witness to the truth of Jesus Christ.

When we look at how far astray God has allowed this to go, we begin to understand that the good and the beauty He is going to give us will be astounding. We do not know how far the world will fall before He intervenes, but it is already pretty extreme. We need to be ready to be purified and to give witness to the truth, the love and the power of God. With this in mind, consider your Lenten sacrifices, consider your prayer life, consider your love for Jesus and His Church. Why? Because this is a time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit