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Password: 40

Our lives today are filled with passwords.  You have to have a password to get into your computer, a password to get money from the ATM machine, a password to get your voicemail messages and so on.  Well, our liturgy today has a password, and that word is “forty.”  The number forty.  And after Mass today, if I ask you what the password is, you should say forty.  I will be talking about forty days in the desert and the forty days of Lent.


And before I go any further, I will tell you what my conclusion will be:  Forty difficult days always lead to a rainbow celebration.  That was true for Noah and his family.  It was true for Moses.  It was true for Jesus.  And it will be true for us during Lent this year.  Forty difficult days always lead to a rainbow celebration.


Noah and his family had to endure non-stop rain for 40 days.  Those were difficult days.  They were on a boat.  They were living in a place of confinement.  They were getting on each others’ nerves -- for 40 days.  When the flood waters receded, God gave them a beautiful rainbow.


Then God said, “I am giving you this rainbow to remind you of our covenant relationship.  I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you.  The rainbow is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature for all future generations.  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made with my people.  Never again shall the waters become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.”  In that passage God speaks about a covenant relationship. What does that mean?  Covenant relationship.  That means that God will always be faithful to us.


If we do things to violate the relationship, God will still be loyal to us.  This is very different from a contract relationship.  In a contract relationship, if one party fails to deliver the other party is not obligated to keep the terms of the contract.  But God does not have a contract relationship with us.  If we do things to violate the covenant, God will still be loyal to us.  God will find a way to send us a rainbow and give us a chance to rebuild the relationship.  For Noah and his family, forty difficult days led to a covenant renewal and a rainbow celebration.


 Many centuries later, the People of God violated the covenant by building a Golden Calf.  Moses was so angry when he saw that Golden Calf that he smashed the Ten Commandments in protest.  Then he spent forty days in solitude - in the desert.  He prayed night and day.  He prayed, “O Lord, do not destroy my people.”  God responded by giving Moses a fresh new copy of the Ten Commandments and by directing him to conduct a covenant renewal ceremony.  In the covenant renewal ceremony, God promised to offer unconditional love to the people and the people promised that they would keep the Commandments.


Each party contributed something to the relationship.  God provided unconditional love and the people provided their obedience to the Ten Commandments.  The covenant renewal ceremony was a rainbow-like celebration.  It came after Moses spent 40 days in the desert.  Forty difficult days led to a rainbow celebration.


Twelve centuries later, Jesus himself spent forty days in the desert.  Those were very difficult days.  He was tested and tempted by the devil.  He was fully human, and he found it difficult to resist the temptations.  But in each case, he was victorious.  And those forty difficult days led to a rainbow-like experience.  It led to his transfiguration on Mount Tabor.  His face shown like the sun and his clothing was dazzlingly white.  And His father spoke from the cloud: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  His forty difficult days in the desert led to a rainbow celebration.


Today we find ourselves at the beginning of Lent - at the beginning of 40 days in the desert.  In other words, during this holy season we will spend time in solitude - time alone with God.  And during that time we will learn a lot about ourselves…..We will learn about the evil spirits which are tempting us, just as they tempted Jesus when he was in the desert for forty days.  And then, we will think about the times when we gave in to certain temptations.


Jesus used his free will to reject temptation; but the same is not true of us.  When we look at our past history and examine our consciences, we see that sometimes we have used our free will to give in to temptations.  It might be hard to admit, but when we look back, we can see that we have sinned.  We might be on the path to holiness, but we are also sinners.


We hold before the words of St. John in the first chapter of his first letter.  “If we say that we are without sin, we are liars.”  Sometimes our sins hurt other people; sometimes they hurt ourselves; And they always hurt God.  Every sin puts a distance between God and us.   We need to close the gap caused by that separation and that process is called reconciliation.


Our church has given us two sacraments of reconciliation - two sacraments to help us when we are distant from God.  These two sacraments take away our sins and bring us back into the loving arms of God.  The first sacrament is the Holy Eucharist which takes away our routine, everyday sins.  The second sacrament is the Sacrament of Reconciliation; the sacrament which takes away our serious sins and restores our connection to God.


I will close by asking us to do two things during the forty days of Lent.  First of all, when you go to Mass, please notice how the Eucharist is a sacrament of reconciliation.   We say the Lord’s Prayer which includes these words, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Before we receive communion, we say, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”  Thus, there are several times when we ask God to forgive us before we receive the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of God’s love for us.  The Holy Eucharist is truly a sacrament of forgiveness. 


My second recommendation:  Please make plans to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this holy season.  Our church has given us this sacrament so that each of us can hear individually that God has forgiven us and restored the covenant relationship which is signified so beautifully by the rainbow.  Lent might be a difficult time for us.  Lent is forty difficult days which lead to a rainbow celebration - And that celebration is the solemn and glorious celebration of Easter.

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