Homily 1st Sunday of Lent 18th February 2024

Homily 1st Sunday of Lent 18th February 2024

Three days ago when we began this season of Lent, we did so to the words, “remember that you are dust, and dust you shall return, or repent and believe in the Gospel.”

So, at the heart of it, the first Lenten insight that is offered to us is simply the realisation that we  are in fact pilgrims now. That no matter how we experience our lives, however satisfying or frustrating they may be, they will change.

A consistent stream of renewal and rebirth is the plan that God has ordained for human life. We can ignore it, we can refuse to co-operate with it, but we cannot make it any less true.

Sooner or later reality catches up with all of us, and we are changed whether we like it or not. So for us, for Christians, our challenge is this, as in everything else we do, is to face reality to accept it, to ourselves give direction and purpose to the changes that will inevitably mark our lives.

In the Gospel Christ says, “The reign of God is at hand. Reform your lives.” The same idea is echoed later on, “take up your cross and follow me.” The point is you yourself take it up. Don’t just sit back and let someone else lay it on you, as they surely will do. It is as thought Christ is telling us that if it is claimed as one’s own, even a cross need not be only a burden.

It can be a crutch as well, if we choose to use it that way, a ladder to something greater.

In the life of Christ, we have been given any number of very valuable tools to use in this whole process. Voluntary, freely, chosen penitential practice changes us. It prods our minds and our bodies and our spirit. It makes us aware of our own fragility of how dependent we can let ourselves become on the comforts that surround us. And it begins, at least, to lessen that dependence. Perhaps the first and most real value of penitential practice is also the most obvious. It makes us uncomfortable, less content with the here and now, and so detached from the here and now.

And we, like Christ, take what we are in our own hands and move into the desert, we too will be tempted. That is what happens in the desert. We will be tempted to put too much importance on all the wrong things, tempted to lose our perspective, our sense of balance. After all, that was the heart of Christ’s own temptation. We will be tempted to irritability and impatience, to being judgemental and critical. In whatever sacrifice there is to be, we will be tempted to simply be victims, rather than priests; to be acted upon, rather than those who make the offering.

Ashes may well be the remnants of what once was. But to be a Lenten people, they are also the seed of what will be.