Preacher’s Sketchbook: First Sunday of Lent
February 22, 2012
Each week, a Dominican member of the Provincial Preaching Advisory board prepares this Preacher’s Sketchbook in anticipation of the upcoming Sunday Mass. The idea of the Preacher’s Sketchbook is to take quotations from the authority of the Church–the Pope, the Fathers of the Church, documents of the Councils, the saints–that can help spark ideas for the Sunday homily. Just as an artist’s sketchbook preserves ideas for later elaboration, so we hope the Preacher’s Sketchbook will provide some ideas for homiletical elaboration.
Dom Guéranger, The Liturgical Year
We may be sure, that a season, so sacred as this of Lent, is rich in mysteries. The Church has made it a time of recollection and penance, in preparation for the greatest of all her Feasts; she would, therefore, bring into it everything that could excite the faith of her children, and encourage them to go through the arduous work of atonement for their sins. During Septuagesima [i.e., the pre-Lenten period beginning 70 days before Easter that continues to exist in the calendar of the forma extraordinaria — ed.], we had the number Seventy, which reminded us of those seventy years’ captivity in Babylon, after which, God’s chosen people, being purified from idolatry, was to return to Jerusalem and celebrate the Pasch. It is the number Forty that the Church now brings before us: – a number, as Saint Jerome observes, which denotes punishment and affliction [In Ezechiel, Chap 24]. Let us remember the forty days and forty nights of the Deluge (Gen. 7:12), sent by God in his anger, when he repented that he had made man, and destroyed the whole human race, with the exception of one family. Let us consider how the Hebrew people, in punishment for their ingratitude, wandered forty years in the desert, before they were permitted to enter the Promised Land [Num. 14:33]. Let us listen to our God commanding the Prophet Ezechiel to lie forty days on his right side, as a figure of the siege, which was to bring destruction on Jerusalem [Ezech. 4:6]. There are two, in the Old Testament, who represent, in their own persons, the two manifestations of God: Moses, who typifies the Law; and Elias, who is the figure of the Prophets. Both of these are permitted to approach God, – the first on Sinai [Exod. 24:18], the second on Horeb [1 Kings (3 Kings), 19:8], – but both of them have to prepare for the great favor by an expiatory fast of forty days. With these mysterious facts before us, we can understand why it was, that the Son of God, having become Man for our salvation, and wishing to subject himself to the pain of fasting, chose the number of Forty Days. The institution of Lent is thus brought before us with everything that can impress the mind with its solemn character, and with its power of appeasing God and purifying our souls. Let us, therefore, look beyond the little world which surrounds us, and see how the whole Christian universe is, at this very time, offering this Forty Days’ penance as a sacrifice of propitiation to the offended Majesty of God; and let us hope, that, as in the case of the Ninivites, he will mercifully accept this year’s offering of our atonement, and pardon us our sins.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2569
Prayer is lived in the first place beginning with the realities of creation. The first nine chapters of Genesis describe this relationship with God as an offering of the first-born of Abel’s flock, as the invocation of the divine name at the time of Enosh, and as “walking with God. Noah’s offering is pleasing to God, who blesses him and through him all creation, because his heart was upright and undivided; Noah, like Enoch before him, “walks with God.” This kind of prayer is lived by many righteous people in all religions. In his indefectible covenant with every living creature, God has always called people to prayer. But it is above all beginning with our father Abraham that prayer is revealed in the Old Testament.
Pope St. Pius X, Ad diem illum
True, we are passing through disastrous times, when we may well make our own the lamentation of the Prophet: “There is no truth and no mercy and no knowledge of God on the earth. Blasphemy and Iying and homicide and theft and adultery have inundated it.” Yet in the midst of this deluge of evil, the Virgin Most Clement rises before our eyes like a rainbow, as the arbiter of peace between God and man: “I will set my bow in the clouds and it shall be the sign of a covenant between me and between the earth”. Let the storm rage and sky darken– not for that shall we be dismayed. “And the bow shall be in the clouds, and I shall see it and shall remember the everlasting covenant.” “And there shall no more be waters of a flood to destroy all flesh.” Oh yes, if we trust as we should in Mary, now especially when we are about to celebrate, with more than usual fervor, her Immaculate Conception, we shall recognize in her that Virgin most powerful “who with virginal foot did crush the head of the serpent”.
The Decree Ad gentes, on the Missionary Activity of the Church
Those who, through the Church, have accepted from God a belief in Christ are admitted to the catechumenate by liturgical rites. The catechumenate is not a mere expounding of doctrines and precepts, but a training period in the whole Christian life, and an apprenticeship duty drawn out, during which disciples are joined to Christ their Teacher. Therefore, catechumens should be properly instructed in the mystery of salvation and in the practice of Gospel morality, and by sacred rites which are to be held at successive intervals, they should be introduced into the life of faith, of liturgy, and of love, which is led by the People of God. Then, when the sacraments of Christian initiation have freed them from the power of darkness, having died with Christ been buried with Him and risen together with Him, they receive the Spirit of adoption of sons and celebrate the remembrance of the Lord’s death and resurrection together with the whole People of God.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 128-130
The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son. Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New. Typology indicates the dynamic movement toward the fulfilment of the divine plan when “God (will) be everything to everyone.” Nor do the calling of the patriarchs and the exodus from Egypt, for example, lose their own value in God’s plan, from the mere fact that they were intermediate stages.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 632
The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Saviour, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.
Pope Benedict XVI, Homily of 24 May 2009 (Vespers of the Ascension)
The liturgy today invites us to contemplate the mystery of the Lord’s Ascension. In the short Reading from the First Letter of Peter, we were urged to fix our gaze on our Redeemer who died “for sins once for all”, that he might bring us back to God; he “has gone into Heaven” and is at the right hand of God “with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him” (cf. 1Pet 3,18). “Carried up into Heaven” and made invisible to the eyes of his disciples, Jesus nevertheless did not abandon them. Indeed, “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1Pet 3,18), he is now present in a new way, within believers, and in him salvation is offered to every human being independently of his race, language or culture. The First Letter of Peter contains precise references to fundamental Christological events of the Christian faith. The Apostle is concerned to shed light on the universal significance of salvation in Christ. We find a similar incentive in St Paul, … who wrote to the community at Corinth: “He (Christ) died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2Co 5,15). To live no longer for ourselves but for Christ: this is what gives full meaning to the life of those who let themselves be conquered by him.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 333
From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. When God “brings the firstborn into the world, he says: ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.'” Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not ceased resounding in the Church’s praise: “Glory to God in the highest!” They protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden, when he could have been saved by them from the hands of his enemies as Israel had been. Again, it is the angels who “evangelize” by proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection. They will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgement.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 538-540
The Gospels speak of a time of solitude for Jesus in the desert immediately after his baptism by John. Driven by the Spirit into the desert, Jesus remains there for forty days without eating; he lives among wild beasts, and angels minister to him. At the end of this time Satan tempts him three times, seeking to compromise his filial attitude toward God. Jesus rebuffs these attacks, which recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and of Israel in the desert, and the devil leaves him “until an opportune time”. The evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfils Israel’s vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror: he “binds the strong man” to take back his plunder. Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father. Jesus’ temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.” By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, Q41, A1
It is written that Jesus “was in the desert forty days and forty nights, and was tempted by Satan.” …Christ of His own free-will exposed Himself to be tempted by the devil, just as by His own free-will He submitted to be killed by His members; else the devil would not have dared to approach Him. Now the devil prefers to assail a man who is alone, for, as it is written, “if a man prevail against one, two shall withstand him.” And so it was that Christ went out into the desert, as to a field of battle, to be tempted there by the devil. Hence Ambrose says on Lk 4,1, that “Christ was led into the desert for the purpose of provoking the devil. For had he,” i.e. the devil, “not fought, He,” i.e. Christ, “would not have conquered.” He adds other reasons, saying that “Christ in doing this set forth the mystery of Adam’s delivery from exile,” who had been expelled from paradise into the desert, and “set an example to us, by showing that the devil envies those who strive for better things.”
Post-Synodal Exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, Bl. Pope John Paul II
The Lord Jesus himself, the Son of God, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,” allowed himself to be tempted by the evil one in order to show that, like himself, his followers too would be subjected to temptation, and in order to show how one should behave when subjected to temptation. For those who beseech the Father not to be tempted beyond their own strength( and not to succumb to temptation, and for those who do not expose themselves to occasions of sin, being subjected to temptation does not mean that they have sinned; rather it is an opportunity for growing in fidelity and consistency through humility and watchfulness.
St. Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith
Let us not, then, be troubled if we find the Son of Man entitled “mighty” in one place, and yet in another, that the Lord of glory was crucified. What might is greater than sovereignty over the powers of heaven? But this was in the hands of Him Who ruled over thrones, principalities, angels; for, although He was amongst the wild beasts, as it is written, yet angels ministered to Him, that you may perceive the difference between what is proper to the Incarnation, and what is proper to Sovereignty. So far as His flesh is concerned, then, He endures the assault of wild beasts; in regard of His Godhead, He is adored by angels.
Lumen Gentium, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church
The mystery of the holy Church is manifest in its very foundation. The Lord Jesus set it on its course by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Kingdom of God, which, for centuries, had been promised in the Scriptures: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand”. In the word, in the works, and in the presence of Christ, this kingdom was clearly open to the view of men. The Word of the Lord is compared to a seed which is sown in a field; those who hear the Word with faith and become part of the little flock of Christ, have received the Kingdom itself. Then, by its own power the seed sprouts and grows until harvest time. The Miracles of Jesus also confirm that the Kingdom has already arrived on earth: “If I cast out devils by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you”. Before all things, however, the Kingdom is clearly visible in the very Person of Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, who came “to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many:”
St. Bede the Venerable
But He retires into the desert that He may teach us that, leaving the allurements of the world, and the company of the wicked, we should in all things obey the Divine commands. He is left alone and tempted by the devil, that He might teach us, “that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution;” (2Tm 3,12) whence it follows, “And He was in the wilderness forty days and forty nights, and was tempted of Satan.” But He was tempted forty days and forty nights that He might shew us that as long as we live here and serve God, whether prosperity smile upon us, which is meant by the day, or adversity smite us, which agrees with the figure of night, at all times our adversary is at hand, who ceases not to trouble our way by temptations. For “the forty days and forty nights” imply the whole time of this world, for the globe in which we are serving God is divided into four quarters. Again, there are Ten Commandments, by observing which we fight against our enemy, but four times ten are forty. There follows, “and He was with the wild beasts.”