(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: https://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Mass-Blog-for-the-First-Sunday-of-Lent-2024.mp3)
You don’t realize how much you love someone until you almost lose them. Married people of a certain age can experience that feeling as we grow older and our loved one spends more and more time away from us in a hospital or nursing home. Spending time inside and outside these places makes one realize that while decades together can go by in a flash, one 24-hour block on the calendar without that loved one can seem like an eternity in solitary confinement. For both of you.
But such eternities can also help remind us how God’s love manifests itself in this time-dependent world.
That’s what this Sunday’s scripture readings can teach us, too. God is depicted as a lover made vulnerable to the prospect of losing us. The story of Noah dramatizes not only how passion can separate lovers, but how being without that love prefigured the coming of a new covenant that would reunite us with God (Gn 9:8-15):
“I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings,” God vowed.
But what of the thousands who were swept away by the flood waters in Noah’s time? Peter tells us that Jesus—God’s human connection to us—visited the victims of that disaster as a loved one visits a relative held captive in prison or by a hospital bed. Maybe God missed these souls as much as we miss our own loved ones during their agonizing days and nights lost in a variety of institutional deserts, not knowing if they’ll return. In Sunday’s second reading, Peter tells us:
[Christ] also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who 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. (1 Pt 3:18-22)
Our gospel reading tells us Jesus submitted himself to imprisonment in his own desert, in preparation for his public ministry to save others isolated by theirs.
He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. (Mk 1:12-15)
Those who can’t relate to this meditation might see it as an exercise in vanity, but these readings are designed to help us all relate to Jesus as he used his desert captivity for humanity’s sake. It’s easy relating to the personalized poetry of the gospels as much as to that of David’s psalms.
Psalm 25, from which we read this first Sunday of Lent, really is about each of us as we seek the way out of our captivity and back home to a significant Other (Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9.):
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.
In any human institution, one day can seem like 40. There’s no time like the present to pray that God’s angels minister to us while we and our families seek the way out of our own healthcare deserts. Sometimes those ministers wear medical scrubs instead of wings.