Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

The readings for this first Sunday in Lent (Genesis 9:8-15; Ps. 25; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1:12-15) speak both simply and profoundly to the way God’s covenant with His created beings is recreated in Jesus Christ.

When I first returned to the Catholic Church in 2012, after a self-imposed banishment of 45 years, I experienced my faith in an entirely new way. I had been raised Catholic, attended religious education classes throughout most of grade school and through confirmation, and attended Mass regularly. Then when I was 14, I entered the aspirancy program of a religious order in Chicago, and spent the next five years immersed in the daily practice of my faith, including studies in Biblical and moral theology, church history, and other religious education.

And I really didn’t get it. In all of that time, I saw the practice of faith as a series of rituals and activities that needed to be done in order to get to whatever came next. I did not live my faith as a response to God’s love.

That changed in 2012. God, in His great love, pursued me until I finally caught Him. And the readings for this Sunday reflect, in a wonderful way, how He renewed the covenant between us. A couple of years after my return to the Church, I had the opportunity to participate in a Bible study that focused on the “timeline” of salvation. This program emphasized the history of salvation in terms of God’s continued willingness to form a new covenant with His people every time they broke the old one – a willingness that culminated in the new covenant in Jesus, which by His death and resurrection is made unbreakable. No matter how far we stray, God remains and is willing us to return so that He can embrace us once again.

In the reading from Genesis, we hear how God establishes His covenant with Noah and all who will follow. Psalm 25 then reminds us that we find love and truth in keeping God’s covenant, and we pray that God will show us the way to do so. St. Peter then reminds us of how baptism seals us into this covenant with God, and how the covenant requires us, like Jesus, to trade death in the flesh for life in the Spirit. And Jesus, in the reading from Mark’s Gospel, is now ready to proclaim the new covenant between God and His people: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.”

What occurs to me, as I reflect on those words, is that none of it is quite what we, or the people in Jesus’ time, were expecting. On one hand, when we think of a kingdom we think of earthly power and military might and, if we are fortunate, a benevolent ruler who both protects us from enemies and takes care of all of our needs. From another perspective, if we’re reasonably honest with ourselves, we think of sin in terms of punishment. When we break the rules – break the covenant – we can expect to be banished and punished, and we tend to pity ourselves and mourn our unloveableness rather than place ourselves at the mercy of the One Who loves us.

What we get, in this covenant that God has created, is very different. The kingdom that Jesus proclaims, the covenant that He facilitates between us and God, has nothing to do with material riches and earthly power. It has everything to do with love and mercy. When we break the covenant, as we do when we sin, Jesus stands between us and punishment. He stands between us and banishment from the Kingdom of God. He stands between us and our own self-pity and self-destructiveness. He shows us the way of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. And what He asks of us is that humility that I wrote about yesterday: Recognizing who we are, and Who He is, we throw ourselves on His mercy, we trust in His love, we rest in His compassion, and we claim His forgiveness with the certainty of those who live in a covenant relationship.

Jesus, Lord, Your kingdom is where I want to live. When You made this new covenant, when You sealed it with Your Word by Your death and resurrection, You meant for me to live in it. I surrender myself to it, trusting myself to the gift of Your grace. Teach me Your ways, O Lord. Amen.

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