Reflection for Sunday, February 18, 2018 (The First Sunday of Lent)

Mark 1. 12 – 15

February 17-18, 2018


Joe Gunn


So, we’ve begun the season of Lent…

There sure was what seemed to be a substantial contradiction this year. Not since 1945 has Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday landed on the very same day…

Now, I don’t know how last Wednesday rolled out for you…but it sure provided “My Rib” with a great excuse to avoid getting chocolate for me, but rather, kindly offering to help get me started on 40 days of sacrifice and penance…

I guess she saw the church sign that read, “Let’s keep the LENT in VaLENTine.”

The placing of ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday remains an important symbol. When we were younger, we heard, “Remember man (sic) that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” Pope Francis gave these words new meaning in his encyclical letter on the environment, Laudato Sí, when he wrote, “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” (LS 2)

The point Francis is making is that the world we live in is holy, and that matter is a most appropriate container for Divine Love. We are all part of the Earth, not apart from the Earth. And we can all be part of the way that Divinity manifests itself to others.

Of course, we see how to do that in the biblical accounts of the life of Jesus. Mark’s account is kind of like the Twitter feed of the gospels: we don’t get many details, his writing is so sparse, compared say, to Matthew and Luke. But the message is the same: Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is followed by 40 days in the dessert, accompanied by fasting, prayer and temptation, and only then is he ready for his public ministry. Our observance of Lent (if we do it well) can also provide us with what we need in order to live lives of Christian witness.

And what could that look like?

In 2015, Pope Francis asked us to consider our responsibility to care for creation. His encyclical was the first in the history of Catholic Social Thought devoted entirely to the environment. And we knew he was right when the pope said, “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years.” (LS 53) So here’s a challenge for us as we enter the first week of Lent: could this be a time for Christians, especially those of us who live in the wealthy North, to avoid the temptation to continue our abuse of nature?

A hard question for me (perhaps for the whole community) to answer is: have I improved my care of creation since June 2015 when Francis’ Laudato Sí was first released? Have I reduced my greenhouse gas emissions in the face of climate change? Have I reduced my environmental footprint?

Guess what? The science shows that Canadians haven’t.

In today’s reading from Genesis, we hear the well-known story about Noah and the flood. What challenges us most today is not to believe in the details of this particular creation myth, but to understand that God’s covenant, as represented in the rainbow, was not just with us. God’s covenant was with “every living creature” and “all future generations.” That’s where our responsibility lies, as partners in this covenant with God.

So today, we are invited to welcome Lent by Giving It Up for the Earth! Cards and pens are in the pews beside you. You might have seen two articles in the parish newsletter, The Spirit, detailing exactly what this campaign is all about.

First, you are invited to consider making some personal lifestyle changes, changes that might help protect the environment. We all know there are many ways to be more “green” or environmentally friendly. Keep that part of the card, take it home, put it on your fridge, to remind us of the Lenten observance we choose.

And secondly, you are invited to detach the bottom part of the card, sign it, and leave that portion in baskets as you leave the church today (or mail them in later.) Here, we’re acknowledging that our individual actions will never be enough to meet the huge environmental challenges humanity faces. Pope Francis knows this, so he called us to “the radical change which present circumstances require.” (LS 175) Of course we need government action, new technology, new industrial models, to achieve what the pope calls “integral ecology” – an approach that creates environmental protection at the same time as a more just distribution of the goods of the earth for the poor and exploited sectors of humanity. That’s why on the fifth Sunday of Lent, we also take up a special collection for Development and Peace and international solidarity efforts.

Specifically, this year, we’re asked to encourage the federal government to end financial subsidies – currently estimated at $1.5 billion annually –  devoted to subsidizing various fossil fuel industries. Why? The first thing you do when you find yourself in a hole is – stop digging! Canada already committed in 2009 to end these subsidies – but way down the road – our current government promised to do so two elections hence. With your support, that could be done a lot sooner.

The point of our Lenten journey is to find out for ourselves what we believe – and how strongly we believe. Please consider Giving it up for the Earth! as part of your own Lenten commitment.