Father Donald Senior, CP

From darkness to light

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The word “Lent” comes from an old English word for spring, celebrating the season when the days begin to grow longer (“lentin,” to “lengthen”). For us Christians it is the season of preparation for the feast of Easter, when we celebrate the absolutely fundamental belief that Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified and died has risen and, on our behalf, has triumphed over death.

Thus, the ultimate spirit of Lent is not grim asceticism or penance for our failings but a time of spiritual renewal in anticipation of the abundant new life God is giving us. Through Jesus we move from darkness to light.

The readings for this First Sunday of Lent are exceptionally rich. The opening reading is taken from the early chapters of Genesis where the Bible lays out its basic view of human origin and destiny. The soaring creation account of Genesis 1, which will be read during the Easter Vigil liturgy, marks each day of God’s creative work and affirms that the universe and our earth within it are a gift of God, beautiful and intrinsically good in every way. God’s work culminates in the creation of the human person, male and female, made “in the image and likeness” of God — able to respond to God with reciprocal love.

This view of human dignity is also affirmed in the reading from Genesis 2 in the first reading for this Sunday. Here God fashions the human out of the clay and then “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so the human became a living being.”

A bag of clay with the breath of God inside — not a bad description of human nature. But the unfolding chapters of Genesis 2 through 9 grapple with another reality — the mystery of evil, sin and violence entering into the world. Through human arrogance, the harmony and the beauty of the Garden of Eden are fractured. Genesis goes on to tell the tragic and violent story of Cain and Abel and of the spread of evil throughout the world. This leads to God’s regret at even having created the world and so he sends the flood. Only the goodness of Noah convinces God to relent.

The rainbow is given as a sign that God will never destroy creation and promises to renew it. Thus, a three-fold pattern within human destiny emerges: the original beauty of God’s creation as an act of love and bounty, the tragedy of the fall introducing sin and death into the world and God’s promise of creation renewed and human destiny restored.

That is how Paul sums it up in the passage from Romans we hear this Sunday: Through one man [Adam] sin and death entered the world but also through one exquisite man — Jesus — “life came to all.” Jesus, Paul notes, is the “New Adam” whose compelling love will restore humanity and creation to its God-intended wholeness and beauty.

That goodness of Jesus is on display in this Sunday’s account of the desert test from Matthew’s Gospel. The same mysterious power of evil that caused the shattering of Eden’s beauty and order attempts to divert Jesus from his God-given mission, but to no avail. Jesus turns away each lure of Satan by affirming his total fidelity to the Father who sent him. The final words of Jesus are decisive as he quotes the book of Deuteronomy: “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”

The Bible’s epic view of human destiny may seem simple or naïve but, in fact, there is great wisdom here drawn from common human experience and the deepest convictions of our faith. We are children of God, endowed with great dignity and beauty, made in the very image of God. Sin, violence and tragic death are all around us, as evident to the biblical peoples as they are to us. But God’s promises are stronger than death. That movement from death to life is what we are asked to remember this Lent as we prepare for Easter.


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