The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is always the story of the Temptation of Christ. Jesus goes into the desert to fast and pray for 40 days. This is clearly the biblical model for our season of Lent. But, we also see the Great Flood, which lasted for 40 days, the Hebrews wandering in the desert for 40 years, Moses goes up onto Mount Sinai for 40 days, and then receives the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and Elijah travelling for 40 days to Mount Horeb, the Mountain of God. Forty days is clearly an important theme in the Scripture.
In our first two readings today, the Scriptures refer to the flood. In the first reading from the Book of Genesis, we see the aftermath of the flood when God enters into a covenant with Noah, and through Noah with the human race, that he will never destroy the earth by flood again. The purpose of the flood was to cleanse the earth of evil. It is a prefigurement of Baptism, by which we are washed clean of all sin and enter into a new covenant with God to be his children. The second reading, from the First Letter of Saint Peter, references the flood and states that it prefigures Baptism through which we are saved.
Lent is about Baptism. In the first centuries of the Church, Lent was established for those men and women preparing to enter into the Church through the Easter Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation. The last 40 days of their preparation was about getting ready spiritually through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Once Europe became Catholic, after Constantine became the first Christian emperor, almost everyone was baptized as a child. There were fewer and fewer adult conversions. The Church decided then that Easter should be about the renewal of our Baptismal commitment and that Lent should be about preparing ourselves to make that renewed commitment.
All of us are to utilize the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to purify ourselves of all sin and rebelliousness against God so that we can stand together and say, “I do believe in God. I do believe in Christ. I do believe in the Holy Spirit. I do believe in the holy Catholic Church.”
The Bishops of the Second Vatican Council recognized that in modern times there was a need for a renewal of the ancient process for bringing adults into the Church. Increasingly, there were people who were “unchurched,” who had never had any kind of religious upbringing. There was an opening of more and more missionary territories throughout the world where Christ had never been preached before. They called for a renewal of what was known as the Catechumenate, or the Christian Initiation of Adults.
Today, Lent and Easter are for those who seek admission to the Church and for those who are already Catholic. Together, we practice the Lenten disciplines, supporting one another on our journey to Christ.
—Fr. Mike Comer