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Jesus’ Lent and our Lent. Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, February 18, 2024. 

Mons. Francesco Follo

(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 02.16.2024).- Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, February 18, 2024. First Sunday of lent

1) Convert to the truth of love.
The first Sunday of Lent – Year B – offers us the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert according to the Gospel of Saint Mark which, compared to that of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, is characterized by great brevity. With the sober and concise style of Saint Mark, the Gospel introduces us to the climate of this liturgical season: “The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1,12) and served by the Angels ( see Mk 1:13)
In these two verses we find the two aspects of the biblical conception of the desert summarized. On the one hand, the desert is seen as the place of temptation when it is said that the Spirit pushed Jesus into the desert, where he remained for forty days (like the forty years of the people in the desert) tempted by Satan. On the other hand, the reference to the desert as the privileged place of experience of the Covenant, that is, of the love of the Lord, whose angels serve Christ. Without a doubt he remembered the words of the prophet Hosea: “Behold, I will draw him to me, I will lead him into the desert and I will speak to his heart” (2, 16).

In the garden of stones that is the desert, the new Garden of Eden made a place of death by sin, Jesus overcomes the old, dull gaze on things that seduce and helps us to look at life with new eyes, holy and full of love.

After receiving baptism from John, Jesus enters the desert led by the same Holy Spirit, who had rested on Him, consecrating him and revealing him as the Son of God.
In that solitary place, a place of trial, as shown by the experience of the people of Israel, the reality of the emptying of Christ, who stripped himself of the form of God, appears with vivid drama (see Phil 2:6-7).

He, who has not sinned and cannot sin, submits to the test and therefore can sympathize with our infirmity (see Heb 4:15). He allows himself to be tempted by Satan, the adversary, who from the beginning has opposed God’s plan of salvation in favor of men.

To these men Christ tells the good news: God is near, “repent and believe in the Gospel”. Believe in love.
At the beginning of Lent, these words “convert and believe in the Gospel” are addressed to each of us. It is not an injunction that arises from arbitrariness, but an indication that flows from love.

Jesus comes to announce the law of freedom, not to denounce according to a law of slavery. His announcement is a “yes” that creates a new alliance of life, and not a “no” that punishes with death. If we respond to his yes with our yes, we will live a good, beautiful and happy life like his.

In order to say this “yes”, we must convert and believe the Gospel. This does indeed put us on the path of charity with Christ. However, let’s not forget that to take and live the path of love, one thing is an indispensable condition: converting, that is, abandoning one’s own will, through humility. Saint

Bernard of Clairvaux discovered this by reading the Gospel, where Jesus recommends to his disciples: “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 18.3). And what else does it mean to become children – asks Saint Bernard – if not “to become humble”? (On Lent II,1). Converting is therefore reduced to learning the difficult art of humility.

Conversion is the “humble and total yes” of one who surrenders his existence to the Gospel, responding freely to Christ who first offers himself to man as the way, truth and life, as the one who alone frees and saves him. This is precisely the meaning of the first words with which, according to the evangelist Mark, Jesus opens the preaching of the “Gospel of God”: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near; convert and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1,15).

2) Penance and conversion.
Converting means changing direction on the path of life: not, however, with a small adjustment, but with a return home as the prodigal son did.

To convert is to turn your mind and heart to God who has become close to you in Christ.
To convert is to welcome the gift of God’s closeness. In my opinion, the strongest and most meaningful word that Jesus pronounces in the Gospel today is this: the Kingdom of God is near. Which means: the lordship of God is present in the person and work of Jesus Christ and is close because it began and grows among men with the presence of Jesus. Conversion is getting closer to this presence, it is letting yourself be reached by the Spirit because we feel distant, orphans of God.
In these forty days the Church asks us to live with intense prayer, with sincere penance in contrition and with generous almsgiving which ensures that compassion towards the poor is not just an emotion but a sharing of goods.

The works of Lent that the Church asks of us are three: prayer, penance and almsgiving. Today, I will focus on penance, to help us celebrate the great mystery of the Easter of His Son, purified and completely renewed in mind and spirit.
Penance has two essential elements: contrition of the heart and mortification of the body. It should not be forgotten that if it is the human heart that wants evil, it is often the body that helps it to commit it.
But the principle of true penance is in the heart: we learn it from the Gospel in the examples of the prodigal son, of the sinner who washes Christ’s feet with her tears, of Zacchaeus the tax collector and of Saint Peter, who offered Christ his pain and Christ confirmed him in his love.
During Lent, the Christian must practice penance of the heart and consider it as the essential foundation of all the acts of this holy season. But it would always be illusory if it did not add the homage of the body to the internal feelings that it inspires.

The Savior is not content to groan and weep over our sins. He atones for them with the suffering of his own body. The Church, which is its sure interpreter, warns us that the penance of our heart will not be accepted if we do not combine it with the exact observance of abstinence on Ash Wednesday and on the Fridays of Lent and fasting, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The devil tries to start from sensuality and gluttony, which is why during Lent we are asked to practice not only prayer, but abstinence and fasting.

At this point it is legitimate to ask what penance to do, what sacrifice to offer to the Lord to live this Lenten period well, in particular, and that of everyday life in general to atone for one’s sins and walk with Christ.

The answer, which comes to us from the Bible and Tradition, is this: “To do the Will of God in everything, always and perfectly”. Whoever offers a fast offers a part of himself to the Lord. Those who offer the Lord the adhesion of their own will to his will, however, offer him all of themselves. And in this the consecrated Virgins are an example. These women, giving themselves body and soul to Christ, perform a perfect act of love. Each of them says “Lord I love what You love and I hate what You hate. I love virtue, I hate sin.” But they show that this is not enough. They love as God wants, with an authentic, joyful and grateful love.

In fact, if love animates this authenticity, the Lord reigns in the person with his joy (see Pope Francis). Furthermore, the life of the consecrated woman concretely expresses the importance of giving everything to God with joy and simplicity. Finally, they testify that giving oneself to God with gratitude is a sign of maturity because they are grateful to experience that God supports them with the light of his face. Finally they show that a grateful heart is a faithful heart.


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