First Sunday of Lent (B)
February 18, 2024
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.





N.B.  Beginning today the translations for the Scripture readings will be taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.  Canadian readers of this website will be familiar with this translation from the lectionary used at Mass in their country.  The change is prompted by copyright concerns.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a far more restrictive copyright policy with respect to the New American Bible authorized for use at Mass in the U.S.  than the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, which holds the copyright for the NRSV and which permits greater latitude in the use of its text.  From my reading of their fair use policy, reproducing the Sunday readings would rarely, if ever, violate the policy.  Notification of the copyright information will appear at the end of the day's entry.

First Reading Gn 9:8-15

God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”

Responsorial Psalm 25:4-5,6-7,8-9

R/. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.

Second Reading 2Pt 3:18-22 

Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison. 20 In former times these did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 Baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you— not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Verse Before The Gospel Mt 4:4b 


Gospel Mk 1:12-15

After Jesus was baptized, 12 the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Catena Nova

Why do we fast for forty days? Formerly many believers approached the sacraments without any particular preparation, especially at the time when Christ first gave them to us. But when the fathers realized the harm that could result from such neglect, they took counsel together and decreed that a period of forty days of fasting be set aside, during which the people would meet to pray and listen to the word of God. During this Lenten season each of the faithful would undergo a thorough purification by means of prayer, almsgiving, fasting, watching, repentant tears, confession, and every other remedial measure. Then when they had done all in their power to cleanse their consciences, they could approach the sacraments. It is certain that the fathers did well to use such lenience in their desire to establish us in the habit of fasting. As we know, we could proclaim a fast throughout the whole year, and no one would pay any attention. But now, with a set time for fasting of only forty days, even the most sluggish need no exhortation to rouse themselves to undergo it; they accept it as a regular observance and recurring encouragement. (St. John Chrysostom)
Perseverance in faith, devotion, and virtue is assured by three things: prayer, fasting, and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting gains entrance, mercy receives. These three things, prayer, fasting, and mercy are all one and they give life to each other. Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them, for this is impossible. If we have only one of them, if we have not all three together, we have nothing. Whoever prays, then, must also fast; whoever fasts must also show mercy.…Let prayer, mercy, and fasting, then, be one single appeal to God on our behalf, one speech in our defence, one threefold plea in our favour. (St. Peter Chrysologus)
We are soon to celebrate the Passion of our crucified Lord. It is therefore in keeping with our commitment to him that we should crucify ourselves by restraining the desires of the flesh…. It is true that Moses, Elijah, and our Lord himself fasted for forty days; but in Moses, Elijah, and Christ we are meant to see the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel, and to learn from them not to cling to this present world or imitate its ways, but to nail our unregenerate selves to the Cross. Christians must always live in this way, without any wish to come down from their Cross, otherwise they will sink beneath the world’s mire. But if we have to do so all our lives, we must make an even greater effort during these days of Lent. It is not a simple matter of living through forty days; Lent is the epitome of our whole life. (St. Augustine of Hippo)

Let each one of us keep in mind the benefit of fasting and what gifts from God he has enjoyed in these few days and so become more eager for the days to come…. Fasting gradually disperses and drives away spiritual darkness and the veil of sin that lies on the soul, just as the sun dispels the mist. Fasting enables us spiritually to see that spiritual air in which Christ, the Sun who knows no setting, does not rise, but shines without ceasing. Fasting, aided by vigil, penetrates and softens hardness of heart…. I beseech you, let each of us strive that this may happen in us! (St. Symeon the New Theologian).

From this episode [of Jesus' temptation] our first lesson is that human life on earth is a life of warfare, and the first thing Christians must expect is to be tempted by the devil. As Scripture tells us, we have to be prepared for temptation, for it is written: “When you enter God’s service, prepare your soul for an ordeal....” Christ desires to impress upon us a second lesson. We should not lightly expose ourselves to temptation, for we read that it was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness. Mindful of our frailty rather, we must be on the watch, praying not to be put to the test, and keeping ourselves clear of every occasion of temptation (John Justus Landsberg).

Lent is a journey, it means accompanying Jesus who goes up to Jerusalem, the place of the fulfilment of his mystery of Passion, Death and Resurrection; it reminds us that Christian life is a “way” to take, not so much consistent with a law to observe as with the very Person of Christ, to encounter, to welcome, to follow…. It is above all in the liturgy, by participating in the holy mysteries, that we are led to make this journey with the Lord; it means learning at the school of Jesus, reviewing the events that brought salvation to us but not as a mere commemoration, a remembrance of past events. In the liturgical actions Christ makes himself present through the power of the Holy Spirit and these saving events become real. (Pope Benedict XVI).

The spirit is what drives Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by Satan. This is the opposite of Adam and Eve, who failed their testing with Satan and then were driven out of the garden. Here, Jesus is driven out in order to get right what Adam and Eve got wrong. The wilderness was also a time of testing for the people of Israel, who grumbled about the report of Promised Land from the spies who had done reconnaissance there for . . . wait for it . . . forty days. Their consequences will be to “shepherd” the wilderness one year for each of those forty days (Num 14:33-34). Finally, Moses also is up on Mt. Sinai for forty days.  The flood story is a scapegoating in reverse: instead of one person dying to save the many, many people die in order to save one family of every species. Jesus, who will be the scapegoat at the end of this story, goes through the sifting of Noah, Adam and Eve, the people of Israel, and Moses, and will be the one who brings ultimate peace based on forgiveness, not the sacred violence of scapegoating. 1 Peter 3 links the Noah story to baptism. Lent provides the forty days for the baptized to follow the way of sifting that Jesus endures to bring us into the way of Life. (James Alison)


     The liturgical "breather" we've taken these last few Green Sundays in Ordinary Time after Epiphany have interrupted the gospel's chronology.  Between the stories of Jesus' birth and infancy which we heard during the Christmas season, and the early events of his public ministry which we have heard these past five weeks, came the account of his baptism by John and then his temptations in the desert.  So in a way, we're "picking up the story" where we left off before the interlude. This is especially so in the Year of Mark for the evangelist tells us how after Jesus' baptism a voice came from heaven was heard to say, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased," [and] just as he was coming up out of the water, the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. (Cf. Mk 1:10-12; NRSV trans.).  So here we are.
     And when we follow this sequence of events, we can't help but be struck by the contrast, if not the contradiction they entail.  For how could Jesus go so quickly from such divine affirmation to an extended time in the desert when he was tempted by Satan — all at the instigation of the Spirit?  Mark, with his typical brevity, leaves us to wonder about it for, unlike Matthew and Luke, he does not tell us the nature of the temptations — just the equally strange contrast and contradiction between wild beasts and angels!  So we're left to fill in the blanks, so to speak, on this First Sunday in Lent.
     And last week's Solemnity of Super Bowl Sunday offered the whole country a fascinating example.   Right there in the midst of this secular liturgy famous for its "readings" in the form of ads, suddenly popped up, of all things, religion, — yes, religion— to the surprise of many and the dismay of some.  First down was Jesus' followers, appearing in one of those He Gets Us ads, with people washing other people's feet who are often seen as antagonists reminiscent of Jesus at the Last Supper with the song "Never Tear Us Apart" playing in the background.  At the end of the ad appeared the words, "Jesus didn't teach hate. He washed feet. He gets us. All of us." 
     Of course, many viewers mocked the whole thing, while others questioned why these sponsors spent so much money on such pricey air time instead of on charity.  Such caring souls were apparently unmindful of how Americans were expected to put a record $17.3 billion in the Super Bowl collection basket this year — not including the estimated $23 billion spent on betting. 
     Now you can judge for yourselves where the contrasts and contradictions may lie in this wilderness story.  But let me share a couple of opposing views.  The first is Daniel Walden writing this week in Commonweal He objects to the ads' contradictions, their
assurance that what they offer will enhance your life without rupture or ruin…. [They are] deliberately inoffensive, appealing to the dim embers of values the American people still share…. [W]hat makes this a defective campaign is precisely that it fails to wound us. The rupture and ruin that characterize the life of a Christian—the breaking of friendships, the alienation from family and neighbor, the persecution we are destined to face for renouncing the sin of the world—are necessary parts of how we attempt to live….because the way we are called to live, the way Christ lived, does not fit the world. And so the world inflicts wounds on us, wounds that may even kill us. This is the part of Christianity that cannot be smoothed over and one we are called to preach: that in order to start living, we must start dying.   ("Superbowl Jesus: 'He Gets Us. Do We Get Him?";; February 13, 2004).
     Then there's Jesuit Joe Hoover writing in America who says by contrast,
The foot-washing commercial directly addresses issues like immigration, abortion, addiction and campus free speech debates and puts Jesus right in the center of them. It tells us, essentially, that Jesus transcends these issues. He loves both sides and has mercy on both sides. Jesus is not “political,” though his message and his actions do have political consequences. He is smack in the center of human conflict. He is where Christians should be, at the places where it counts….It counters a notion that Jesus can be used for hate and division, as a weapon to lash out at one’s enemies.  ("In Defense of the 'He Gets Us' Super Bowl ads";; February 13, 2024)
     You can decide.  (And I will have more to say about the Super Bowl ads next Sunday and their Catholic counterpart.) For now one thing is certain, Lent is its own contradiction and contrast. Joined to its penitential character, where we face squarely the contradiction of our sins, Lent is also about the contrast posed by our baptism which Peter says saves [us] now: made possible by the supreme contradiction of Christ being put to death in the flesh contrasted with his being brought to life in the Spirit (II).  
     So with contradictions and contrasts abounding, we live by the pattern of Christ’s Paschal Mystery: the mystery that sealed the covenant between God and humanity, a new and eternal covenant –  given for all ages to come (I).  No longer signaled by a rainbow, but signed in the Blood of Christ. Who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (II). To whom be glory, forever, amd ever.  Amen. (II)


Intercessions (Joe Milner; The Sunday Website)

For the Church: that the Spirit may lead us during this Lenten season to a fuller living of the Gospel, steadfast faithfulness to our baptismal commitment, and generous service to those in need.

For healing of the divisions within the human family: that God’s covenant to preserve humanity will inspire us toward greater cooperation with all peoples as we strive to overcome disease, malnourishment, violence, and racism.

For grace to resist temptation: that God will help us recognize the hollowness of the fruits of temptation and help us to live faithfully as the daughters and sons whom God has made us to be.

For all who are facing “wild beasts”: that we may know God’s presence and strength as we face selfishness, bullying, addictions, and all the actions which destroy life.

For sincerity in our prayer, fasting and almsgiving: that our Lenten disciplines will help us make room for God in our lives and increase our compassion for others.

For all who are held unjustly: that God will free captives and heal their wounded bodies and spirits.

For the leaders of every nation: that God will help them to share their knowledge and resources with people and countries that are burdened by poverty and natural disasters.

For greater care for all living beings: that inspired by God’s covenant with every living creature, we may be good stewards of the eco-systems that support life in all its forms on earth.

For all who are suffering: that those exposed to the cold may find warmth, those seeking work may discover new opportunities, those burdened by isolation may experience support, and those who are recovering from natural disasters may receive the strength and resources that they need.

God of the covenant, as the forty days of deluge swept away the world’s corruption and watered new beginnings of righteousness and life, so in the saving flood of baptism your people are washed clean and born again.  Throughout these forty days, we beg you, unseal for us the wellspring of your grace, cleanse our hearts of all that is not holy, and cause your gift of new life to flourish once again. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Offertory Antiphon

Offertory Motet (Thomas Tallis)


Purge me, O Lord from all my sin, And save thou me by faith from ill, That I may rest and dwell with thee, Upon thy holy blessed hill.

And that done, Grant that with true heart, I may without hypocrisy, Affirm the truth, Detract no man, But do all things with equity.

 Communion Antiphon


Closing Hymn

Lord, who throughout these forty days, For us didst fast and pray, Teach us with thee to mourn our sins, And close by thee to stay.
As thou didst hunger bear and thirst, So teach us, gracious Lord, To die to self, and chiefly live, By thy most holy word.

And through these days of penitence, And through your Passiontide, Yea, forevermore, in life and death, Jesus, with us abide.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.