February 21, 2021 – First Sunday of Lent
Readings: Genesis 9:8-15 / 1 Peter 3:18-22 / Mark 1:12-15
I will deliver the following homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today. (Note: If you would like to listen to the homily as delivered last night, scroll to the bottom)
Each summer when I was young, my family used to go to my grandpa’s cabin on Long Lake near Spooner, WI. I loved the time we spent there. Warm days and cool nights. Catching frogs. Digging up worms for fishing. Jumping off the dock to swim. Playing cards with my great aunts. Catching a glimpse of a deer or two in the woods. Sometimes, we even parked our car outside the fence of the local trash dump at night in the hope of seeing a bear rooting through the trash. (We were easily entertained.) They were great vacations.
What was not great was the drive to Wisconsin. My younger brother was not born yet, but there were still seven of us loaded into the station wagon for the 15-hour drive. Because I was the youngest at the time, I was put in what was referred to as “the way back.” There was the front of the car, the middle, the back, and the way back. The way back was where all the luggage and bags and coolers that wouldn’t fit in the car top carrier were put.
There were no seat belts back there, but that was not a problem. I was so wedged into my seat, there was no chance I was going anywhere. I was even left behind at a gas station one year when we stopped for a restroom break. The family went on ahead without me, assuming I was still wedged in the way back.
However, it was all worth it when we pulled into the gravel driveway of the cabin. I remember, after extricating myself from the car, seeing how beautiful everything was. How it sounded and smelled and felt.
A quote comes to mind in regard to these long trips in the car: If you want to enjoy the rainbow, be prepared to endure the storm.
My vacation memory and this quote came to mind as I studied the readings for this First Sunday of Lent. The quote I mentioned – If you want to enjoy the rainbow, be prepared to endure the storm – alludes to today’s first reading from the Book of Genesis.
We are offered the conclusion of the story of Noah and his ark. Thanks to Noah’s determined preparation and the love of a merciful God, he and his family survived. They emerged from the ark after forty days, relieved that the storm was over. They took it all in. They saw how beautiful everything was. How it sounded and smelled and felt.
Even better, God spoke to Noah, and promised that nothing like this would ever happen again. God said, I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood.
He even went so far as to offer a reminder of this covenant during future storms: I will set a rainbow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
While God promised there would never again be a storm of such great magnitude, he did not promise lives devoid of challenges and struggles. We will still face our own personal storms. And like Noah, we will need to be prepared. That preparation, along with the love of a merciful God, offers us the chance to enjoy the rainbow.
If you want to enjoy the rainbow, be prepared to endure the storm.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus faced forty days of a different type of storm. He faced a desert experience, a personal encounter with temptation. The Gospel tells us: The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.
However, because he had lived a life pleasing to his Father, Jesus was prepared. That preparation, along with the love of his merciful Father, enabled him to withstand the temptations put before him. Jesus came through his desert experience stronger and continued the work for which he came.
Our modern-day ark has been pounded by the flood waters of a pandemic. We have been immersed in a year-long desert experience. If we are to endure and have an opportunity to enjoy the rainbow, we must be vigilant in our preparation. If we are prepared, we can rely on the love of a merciful God to do the rest.
In today’s gospel, Jesus offers us the six-word secret to being prepared. They are the same words we heard when we received our ashes just days ago: Repent and believe in the gospel.
Our parish offers many opportunities to prepare, beginning with the celebration of the Mass – whether that is in-person or live-streamed. The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and serves as the greatest preparation possible. We have even added a Mass back into our schedule, to allow more people to experience the Mass in person.
If you are not considered at risk due to age, health, or other considerations, I encourage you to return to Mass. If families are attending ball games or gathering with friends or going out to eat, but are not attending Mass, what message are we sending to our children regarding our priorities?
In addition to Mass, there are many other ways to prepare: There are regular opportunities for confession, devotions several evenings a week, Friday Stations of the Cross, Lenten prayer books, and much more. All of these activities reinforce the armor we need to withstand our daily challenges.
Personal prayer is critical as well. We must set aside time for prayer. Challenging times heighten our need to be connected to God; to be immersed in our faith. We can’t truly know his love and mercy from a distance. It should be close and personal – from our heart directly to God.
All of these forms of worship follow the directive set forth by Jesus: Repent and believe in the gospel.
Our intentional preparation, combined with the love of a merciful God, keeps us safe in the storm.
It will allow us to endure this pandemic, as well as all other trials and tribulations of our life. We will come out on the other side of the storm, or the other side of our desert experience stronger, with a sense of resolve and hearts filled with hope.
We will climb out of our seat in the way back of the station wagon and see how beautiful everything is. How it sounds and smells and feels.
We will enjoy the rainbow.