Our first reading, taken from Genesis, and our New Testament reading, which is a passage from St Peter’s First Letter, are explicitly about baptism. We begin Lent with a consideration of baptism, which is the fundamental sacrament of the life of grace, because Lent is about renewing, or, for our Elect, entering into, our covenant with God. From the beginning of the world, God has sought to make a covenant with humanity so that he can enjoy communion with us and we can enjoy communion with God, who is himself a communion- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- as well as communion with one another and the with rest of creation.
Our Gospel today, occurs after Jesus’s baptism by John in the Jordan and tells of his forty days in the desert when he was tempted by Satan as well as ministered to by the angels. When he emerged from this intense forty-day experience, he began his public ministry with these words, which words constitute the heart of our Scripture readings on this First Sunday of Lent: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
The Greek word usually translated as “repent” is metanoia. Metanoia, in turn, is a compound word: meta + nous. Meta means, literally, “above,” “over,” or “beyond.” Nous is the Greek word for mind. Literally, repenting means to have a transformed or converted mind.
Repentance means being committed to overcoming many of your natural tendencies and reactions. To repent means possessing the mind of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:14-16). Repenting means being transformed so you can resist the temptation to think, speak, and act solely out of self-interest. Looking out for yourself first and last means thinking, speaking, and acting in ways that often trigger feelings of bitterness and negativity that result in a lack of empathy, or even sympathy, for others.
Repentance means being resolved, with God’s help, to meet every situation you face, however unfair it may seem, with understanding and an empathetic heart. While true repentance brings you to an awareness of your alienation from God, from other people, and from the rest of creation, at the same time it transforms the way you perceive the world, others, and yourself. By repenting, you come to see that penances are not punishments and that to live in a penitential way means to live selflessly in imitation of Christ out of love for God and neighbor and to discover in this true joy.
As noted, the prefix meta refers to something that comes to us from beyond ourselves. So, at least in the first instance, metanoia, that is, true repentance, is a grace. The ability to truly repent is not something we are capable of on our own. To relate it to the last sentence of Jesus’s proclamation, to repent includes believing in the Gospel. To believe in the Gospel means not only believing that Jesus is the Good News and the kingdom of God in person, it means following him and living as his disciple, which means committing yourself to a life of conversion, a life of growth and change. Being a Christian is about living in relationship, in communion with God, other people, and the whole of creation. Our gathering for Mass should build us into a community rooted in Eucharistic communion, rooted in Christ.
It is by faith, which is our response to God’s initiative, that we are transformed. As St. Peter tells us in our second reading, our transformation begins in the waters of baptism, which “is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” who “suffered for [our] sins… the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead [us] to God” (1 Pet. 3:18.21). It is by being baptized, then, that we enter into a covenant relationship with God. Rather than using water to destroy, in baptism, God uses water to give us life in keeping with the covenant he entered into with Noah.
In our Christian tradition, Lent cannot be understood apart from the final stage of preparation for those preparing to be baptized at the great Paschal Vigil. At the Vigil, our Elect- Tiffany, Magnin, Dahliana, and Brennan- will be baptized into Christ. To this end, by their participation in the Rite of Election [earlier today] yesterday, they went from being Catechumens to being those elected by Christ in the person of Bishop Oscar to receive new life through rebirth in baptism, which is life eternal.
The bishop also called our Candidates- Scot, Paul, and Brad- to continuing conversion. They are called to convert over the course of Lent so they are ready to have their baptism confirmed and enter into full communion with Christ and his Church at the great Vigil.
For those of us already baptized and fully incorporated as members of Christ’s Body, this intensified period of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving is a time to actively renew our own baptismal covenant, to repent and begin living lives more conformed to Christ. At the great Paschal Vigil, we will renew the promises we made when we were baptized. An indispensable means Christ has put at our disposal for this time of renewal is the Sacrament of Penance. By making a good confession, receiving absolution, and making satisfaction for your sins by carrying out your penance, you are restored to the grace you first received in baptism: the state of original grace, the state of communion.
My friends, Lent is about conversion. It is not about making ourselves uncomfortable in small and trivial ways. God is always seeking to transform us. The transformation God seeks, which requires your cooperation because God never forces you, is to become who you are, who God, out of love, created, redeemed, and is now sanctifying you in and through this Eucharist to be. Once transformed, God entrusts us with the mission of reconciling the world, of restoring it to the state in which all things were originally created, the state of grace: the state of communion. “Lent” means springtime. Spring is the time when what appears to be dead comes to back to life. Today, on this First Sunday of Lent, Christ calls each one of us and all of us together back to life.
Repenting is how you come to know that the Lord’s ways “are love and truth” (Ps. 25:10).