The obstinate sinfulness of humanity, the total rejection of God, was rampant in the ancient days, long before Abraham, threatening the plan of creation that the Lord had made in his covenant with Adam. The coming of the great deluge from which only Noah and his descendants would survive, was not only purgative but also restorative. God cleansed creation and restored it beyond the goodness that it already reflected.
On large, though much smaller scales, we have experienced destruction from natural disaster and war repeatedly throughout history. In the past year we saw two almost simultaneous hurricanes wreak much destruction in the Caribbean. Wild fires and mudslides devastated California. Several earthquakes, most notably in Mexico, caused extensive damage. Several volcanos along the Ring of Fire are now on the point of eruption. Yet, we know that no matter how destructive of physical property, the general landscape, and even of human life, that restoration always takes place.
Creation – destruction – restoration. That’s the cycle that is repeated throughout the Scriptures and is indeed the cycle that is repeated throughout life. This is the constant reminder to us of the Paschal Mystery: the Death of Jesus on the Cross is made complete through his Resurrection from the dead.
The Lenten Season challenges us to enter into the depth of the Paschal Mystery more completely in our own lives. We are called to set aside our sinfulness, to experience the total cleansing of our souls, and to turn and set our faces towards the Kingdom of God.
This is a task that we do not take lightly, and one that we are called to take up daily. Jesus challenges us throughout his teaching, to take up our cross and to follow him. The burden that he places upon us is lightened when as we allow him to carry it with us. Yet, the burden, we find, is weighty and profound.
As he prepared to enter into his public ministry, Jesus was compelled by the Spirit to enter the wilderness where he struggled with Satan. Each of us has our own struggle with Satan in the internal wilderness of our consciences and our hearts. Sometimes it can become overwhelming, causing either great distress or the relapse into the darkness of our own sinfulness. It is a moment when death overtakes us allowing despair to enter in.
While it is easy to feel lost and abandoned in those moments, faith demands that we recognize Jesus and walk with him during such times. He is with us in the wilderness and he calls us out of the wilderness to the lushness of the garden.
Forgiveness of our sins and our restoration to the community is always possible. Reflecting on Noah and the deluge, St. Peter writes in the Second Reading: “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
When we experience healing and forgiveness we need to believe that it is true and that is has happened as it was said it would. All too often we carry with us the sins that have been forgiven in the Sacrament. All too often we carry with us hurts that are long past and forgiven by the other.
As we embark on this Lenten journey, we are called to set aside our sins not just with our lips, but within our memories and the heart of our conscience.
The world that Noah entered when he disembarked from the ark was not the same world as when he entered the ark. Everything was upended. The vegetation was new, the landscape transformed. So it is as we leave the confessional. We are changed – the world, though still afflicted by sin – is nonetheless different. It, too, must be changed because we are changed.
Lent is our time for cleansing. To experience our own internal spiritual deluge, to enter the ark and to emerge from there refreshed, invigorated and responding to Jesus to proclaim boldly with our voices and our lives: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.