Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Genesis 9:8-15
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15


February 25-26, 2012, First Sunday in Lent, Cycle B

The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.

How do you hear this statement? What kind of an emotional response does it invoke? I suspect for most of us, we process it as if it were a cliche. We've heard that before and it really doesn't affect us one way or another.

I would like you to take a few seconds and picture the person you think loves you the most in this world. Now close your eyes and imagine that person saying to you: The one who loves you is right here; turn around, come to me and let me love you fully, passionately, and without end.

In fact, that is what that quote from today's Gospel really means. From the beginning of creation, through God's establishing a covenant with Noah as we heard in our first reading today, through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, in that baptismal hymn we heard quoted in the first letter from Peter, and most convincingly in the person of Jesus the Christ, God is the hound of heaven, pursuing us with relentless love. How do we not hear this?

Last Sunday my wife Betsy asked me to go with her to see the movie The Vow. It is based on the true story of a couple, Kim and Krickett Carpenter. Now knowing the real story will not diminish the movie experience; the movie actually only treats a part of their story. In real life back in 1993, 10 weeks into their marriage, Krickett suffered severe brain trauma in a car accident, and as a result, lost all memory of the last 18 months of her life, including meeting, falling in love with, and marrying her husband Kim. She simply could not remember him, and as a result his love for her had no effect on her. She could not respond to it. They separated for a while but Kim's faithfulness to his marriage vows kept him seeking after her. Krickett fell in love with Kim again and 3 years later they remarried, and have 2 children today. Krickett never regained her memory of those 18 months.

The movie is a real gut-wrencher whether you watch it from the point of view of the husband or that of the wife. And as I was reflecting on today's readings, I realized that it is a way of understanding why we humans don't hear or respond to God's loving pursuit of us. Like the woman in The Vow, we have suffered a severe loss of memory. We have forgotten who we are; we have forgotten that we were created out of the love of Trinity. We have forgotten how much God loves us, and what we can be if we commit ourselves to that love. I would suggest that this movie takes on a much fuller dimension if we watch it imagining that the husband is God, and the wife is humankind.

The good news, the Gospel, is that even if we never regain that memory of where we came from, and who we really are, we can reconnect with this God who loves us. How do we do this? Our readings today speak directly to that. The themes of covenant (think vow), rebirth in the waters of the flood and the waters of baptism, and the desert experience Jesus submits to before starting his public ministry are all echoed in the themes of Lent.

Fr. Mario in his homily on Ash Wednesday pointed out that the word Paul uses for reconciliation in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians is katalagete which is the word found in Greek marriage records to describe a reconciliation of spouses who were separated. The word we hear today translated as Repent is metanoeite. Both words have at their root the sense of a fundamental change. What Jesus calls us to is not just a confession of our sins but a fundamental change in our being. Baptism sacramentalizes this kind of fundamental change: we go down into the waters which primarily represent the tomb of Christ and there we die to our false self; then we rise to new life in Christ. Jesus tells us Repent; turn around; you are walking away from the love that brought you into existence and that is your ultimate destiny.

The Church gives us this season of Lent with its three pillars of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving as a means to undergo this fundament change Jesus calls us to. Through those traditional practices we can start turning back towards God, and as we start to come face to face with love itself, we can be transformed into who we truly are, so that on Easter we can renew our baptismal vows with a changed heart, a new direction in life. Let us pray that we mkae this Lent a time of rediscovering the love of God.

I am sure that for many of you, this will not take a lot of imagination because you have experienced it. Imagine someone who you love fiercely is walking away from that love, in anger, or fear, or confusion, and you know that they are headed for pain and suffering that would not happen if they turned around and walked back into your love. All you want is to have them turn around and look into your face so they can see that saving love.

The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.

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