"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
February 26, 2012: The First Sunday of Lent
Synopsis: At the beginning of Lent we are invited to follow the Lord who spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying. The Old Testament readings in Lent recall the saving deeds of God, which prefigure God’s ultimate act of redemption in Jesus Christ.
This week’s first reading is a perfect example. After the flood waters subsided, God made a covenant with Noah and “with every living creature.” The covenant with Noah foreshadows the new and everlasting covenant established by Christ.
In the second reading, St. Peter explains how the waters of the flood prefigure baptism. What once brought death and destruction now in Christ brings life, peace and immortality. Through the waters of baptism, sin is washed away and sinners are saved.
Through the 40 days in the wilderness Jesus relives the life of Israel during their 40-year sojourn in the desert and the 40 days that Noah spent at sea. Jesus unites himself to Israel and to all who are oppressed by sin and surrounded by evil and tempted by Satan.
There in the desert Christ, the second Adam, began the arduous process of repairing the rift between God and man and restoring creation to its original harmony. Christ’s work of redemption that began in the desert beyond the Jordan reached its fulfillment on Golgotha where evil was defeated once and for all.
Key verse: “He remained in the desert for forty days” (Mark 1:13).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Church has seen in Noah’s ark a prefiguring of salvation by baptism, for by it ‘a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.’ If water springing up from the earth symbolizes life, the water of the sea is a symbol of death and so can represent the mystery of the Cross. By this symbolism baptism signifies communion with Christ’s death” (1219-1220).
Benedict XVI: “The Spirit’s first command leads him into the desert ‘to be tempted by the devil.’ It is a descent into the perils besetting mankind, for there is no other way to lift up fallen humanity. Jesus has to enter into the drama of human existence, for that belongs to the core of his mission; he has to penetrate it completely, down to its uttermost depths, in order to find the ‘lost sheep’ to bear it on his shoulders and to bring it home” (“Jesus of Nazareth”).
Life application: During Lent we renew and intensify our solidarity with Christ who fasted and prayed in the desert for 40 days. We also take up our cross and follow him as he travels to Jerusalem where the glorious act of the world’s redemption was accomplished. Lent is a time of more intense reflection and self-examination, prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Since one of the focal points of this week’s readings involves water, spend time this week reflecting on your own baptism. Do you know the date of your baptism? Find out!
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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