Lent 2021

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).

There is a stained-glass window in our church that has a little bit of interesting local history connected to it. It is the window in the choir-loft. This window is dedicated to the memory of John Wilson Murray. He was the first detective in the province of Ontario and was a member of our parish community who lived on Brunswick Avenue. He died in 1906. After he retired as the province’s first detective, he wrote his memoirs and they were published with the title, “Memoirs of a Great Detective: Incidents in the Life of John Wilson Murray.” The television show, The Murdoch Mysteries, is based upon his journals and the life of this early parishioner of St. Peter’s Parish.

Now the reason I am mentioning this at the beginning of Lent is not to tell you about The Murdoch Mysteries, but about the scene that is depicted in this window that is dedicated to the memory of John Wilson Murray. The scene in the window depicts the apostles John and Peter as they arrive at Jesus’ tomb, on the morning of the Resurrection, and discover that He is not to be found there. As John and Peter arrive at Jesus’ tomb after the Resurrection, this window shows them staring into a tomb that is pitch black. Even though Jesus had already risen to share eternal life with them, they do not know this. When they look into the tomb, which announces the Good News that Jesus has risen and destroyed death, Jesus himself is not there and the tomb is dark. The darkness within the tomb represents the reality that because they did not know what to expect of the Resurrection, they did not know where to look for Christ, and could not find Him where they expected Him to be—among the dead. As they were looking for Christ where He was not to be found, they saw only darkness and uncertainty in the empty tomb. The reality was, that something far exceeding their expectations was ahead of them.

I thought about this as I read the first reading for the First Sunday of Lent this year, which tells the story about Noah and his family in the Ark. The great flood had destroyed much of life as they had known it. They were separated from all that they had known before and were cooped-up together as a family in the Ark. As they looked out the window of the Ark, they would have had an experience much like John and Peter as they looked into the dark tomb: they would not have known what the future would have held or when the flood would be over and they could return to “normal” life again. I think of Noah and his family on the Ark, wandering when the flood was going to end and life return to normal, and I cannot help but think of the way many of us are experiencing the COVID 19 pandemic. The pandemic has many of us shut-in our homes, isolated and wandering when it will all come to an end.

This is not a bad image for this Lent either!

Lent is that season of forty days in which we are called to prepare to celebrate Easter. Easter marks the new life which Christ calls all of us to be ready to embrace as we renew our baptismal promises and celebrate Christ’s victory over death.

After the great flood, Noah and his family left the Ark for the new covenant that God had called them to live in the new creation that He would bring about after the flood. In the second reading for the First Sunday of Lent, from the First letter of Peter, Peter also makes references to Baptism as that new life that we are called to live as a result of our sharing in Christ’s Resurrection. As Noah and his family were called to a new life after the flood, so too, you and I are called to new life through our baptism.

This image of the new life, and experience of the Resurrection, that Noah and his family, and John and Peter were called to after a time of uncertainty, is a reminder of the new life that you and I are always called to believe is possible with Christ.

This time of pandemic has left all of us anxious and dealing with uncertainty. What the future will hold is a mystery that remains to be seen by all of us. However, our faith in Christ, and the certainty that Jesus will be with us, no matter what the future holds, should call all of us to a confidence that it will bring new and unexplored possibilities.

Very often, when a person undergoes a significant event, afterwards they rethink how they will approach life. Such experiences can often call a person to think about what is really important in life. That is what I think God might be calling all of us to think about as this pandemic comes to an end.

Lent has always been a time for the Christian to examine her or his life and attempt to see how she/he might follow Christ more closely. This year as we prepare for Easter 2021, we have come through an experience of the pandemic that has reminded all of us what an amazing and precious gift life is. The isolation that we have experienced might have reminded us of the importance of family and friendship. The loss of certain loved ones might have caused us to realize how fragile we all are.

Recently, I was reading the autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. In the last homily he gave before his assassination, he spoke about the kind of life that he would like to be remembered for after his death. I would like to share some of it with you, as I think it raises some good points about the way we might hope to live a more Christian life following this pandemic. Martin Luther King wrote saying that after his death, he hoped people would say of him:

I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, jr., tried to live his life serving others.

I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day, that I tried to be on the right side of the war question.

I want you to be able to say that day, that I tried to feed the hungry.

And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked.

I want you to say, on that day, that I did try in my life, to visit those who were in prison.

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Martin Luther King, Jr., did live the kind of Christian life for which he desired to be remembered.

As the pandemic has made all of us realize how fragile our own lives are, I wander if we could say that same about our lives. This Lent is a beautiful time to examine our own lives and ask how it is that we wish to come out of this pandemic and celebrate a new Easter in our own lives.

Lent has traditionally been a time to change through different spiritual practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Through prayer, we may ask God to help us to live our baptismal calls in a way that draws us closer to His Son, Jesus our Lord. Our fasting ought to allow us to grow closer to God. I love to tell of the year I gave up coffee and became much grouchier. That was not the kind of fasting that God desires. The fasting that we do should allow us to grow in holiness and closer to God and our neighbour. Almsgiving is a way of contributing to charity as a way to share with others from what we have been given. ShareLife is the charity that we are asked to support in the Archdiocese of Toronto in the Lenten season. ShareLife supports more than 40 local and international charities to help us live the Gospel in our local Archdiocese. If you are able to support ShareLife this Lent, please do so.

In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent, Jesus calls His disciples with the challenging words from the Gospel of Mark (Mark 1: 16): “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As we near what I hope is the end of the pandemic, I pray that we can all hear these words as a call to examine our lives this Lent, and can leave behind whatever is causing us not to follow Jesus, in order to live as disciples who have heard and believe in the Good News.

When the flood was almost over, Noah and his family looked out the window of the Ark and wondered what would follow. After Jesus had risen from the dead, John and Peter looked into the dark and empty tomb and wondered what it might all mean. They all discovered a new and more beautiful life to follow.

This Lent, as we approach the end of this pandemic, may we all experience this Lent as a call to a new way to live with Christ. As we prepare to renew our baptismal promises in the Easter season, let us ask for the grace to leave behind everything that keeps us from following Christ and knowing the life of grace and happiness that He intends us to live with Him. This Lent, may we all hear the words of Christ, as He says: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” May these words lead all of us to take up His invitation to a new and exciting conversion in faith this lent..

I would also ask you to pray for those to be initiated into the Church this Easter through the RCIA. May their love for our faith inspire us to understand the gift that faith is for each of us.

Fr. Michael McGourty,
Pastor—St. Peter’s Church—Toronto, Ontario

This reflection based on the readings for the First Sunday of Lent 2021: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; and Mark 1: 12-15.

P.S. As mentioned elsewhere, on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021, the parish will have several short services to distribute ashes and communion in the church from 7:00 to 9:00 A.M. and between 2:00 and 4:00 P.M. For those who cannot make these times, ashes will also be distributed on Thursday, February 18th  and Friday, February 19th from 7:00 to 9:00 A.M.