FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (Tsomme)

Psalm 2
Titus 2 : 11-15
Matt 6 : 1-14

This Sunday we begin Tsomme or Lent, the penitential season of the Great Fast. This is 40 days set aside by the Church for us to imitate Jesus who spent 40 days of fasting in the wilderness after his Baptism. During this time of fasting and prayer, he was strengthened to withstand the temptations of Satan. It is also a reminder of the 40 years the Israelites spent en route to the Promised Land, wandering in the desert until they were purified and capable of following God’s will and thus participating in His establishment of the Chosen People in the Promised Land.

During this period we are called on to Fast, to pray, and give alms. This means that every day for the next 40 days, including Sundays until Easter (Fasika) all Catholics over the age of 18 are asked to abstain from eating meat, eggs, milk, butter and to eat smaller amounts of food. For many people it means they eat a small breakfast, a reasonable lunch and then a small meal at night. For others it might mean only one small meal. But it does mean we exercise some self-control over what we eat.

Through fasting, prayer and alms-giving, we come closer to God because our hearts are more and more freed from attachment to things. Attachment to things keeps us from loving God wholeheartedly. Jesus told the rich young man to sell and give away everything he possessed and then come follow Him. This period of fasting is a time in which we can review our lives and readjust them so as to be in line with what it means to be a follower of Jesus

Our readings for the First week of Lent (Tsomme) deal with what it means to live in accordance with the Gospel values God details for us in Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Psalm 2 is attributed to King David and was probably written 1,000 years before the birth of Christ yet it reflects on the reign of the Messiah. The Israelites believed the Messiah would be, first and foremost, an earthly king who would bring peace and justice to the world. Yet these verses can be applied in part to each and everyone who tries to live his Baptismal vows and claims God as Father. Of each one He can say, “You are my son/daughter, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”

However, God understands that the things of the earth are very alluring and that they have a very strong hold over everyone. It is easy to be pulled away from God’s plan for our salvation. In our modern day society we are confronted with many issues that are in direct conflict with what God has said such as gay marriage, abortion, immodesty of clothing and behavior, an inordinate emphasis on possessions etc….

There are many who could be called “a king of the earth” men who have set themselves up as dictators and do not rule with justice and peace, setting themselves “against the Lord and his anointed.” One modern example would be Saddam Hussein and another would be Kim Yil Sung, the dictator of North Korea. History is full of examples of men who have viewed themselves as all-powerful and who have been brought low by the twists and turns of history. God expects rulers to be just in their dictates, and the laws of a government to be equally just.

The term “Kings” can also be applied to us. At baptism we receive the anointing of prophet, priest and king. We are kings because we have become sons and daughter of the most High King through baptism. So this is also a solemn warning to each of us to keep God’s commandments “lest he be angry” and we “perish on the way.”

The Psalm shows us clearly the consequence of scorning, mocking, disobeying or denying God -- all these bring the anger of God down on us. On the other hand we see that by ‘taking refuge in Him” we are in line for His blessing in which He gives us everything He has. We become the heirs to all the treasures of Heaven.

Matthew’s Gospel is written by a man who knew what it takes to follow Jesus. He was a tax-collector for the Romans and made a lot of money. Tax-collectors were hated because they were regarded as thieves and extortionists. They got money from the citizens—way more than the Romans demanded—and sent to Rome what was required and pocketed the rest. It was rather like a mob racket. Yet once Matthew met Jesus, he gave up everything. He made reparation to those whom he had robbed over the years, and was reconciled with God and man. We are called on to be like him. We are called to reflect on and acknowledge our sinful ways, and to change our lives. We need to go to confession at least once during the period of the Great Fast.

In the Gospel reading St. Matthew reports what Jesus has to say about what it means to follow Him and live a Christian life.

** First, we need to be modest and humble. We should not boast about what we have done but should do things quietly and as anonymously as possible, knowing that God is omniscient and therefore knows all we do and think-down to the faintest stirrings of our heart.

** Prayer should be basic to our lives but it, too, should be undertaken privately for several reasons. If you make a display of your holiness, you are not being humble therefore you are making it hard for God to respond to you. Secondly, you need the quiet so you can still your mind and allow yourself to listen to God who comes to us in stillness—Be still and know that I am God.

** Jesus gives us the pattern for all our prayer in the Our Father. All prayer should follow this pattern of praise, petition and trust in the might and mercy of God. The Our Father also teaches us something about how we should live. We need to be humble and practice Humility by acknowledging who we are before the Almighty God. We need to Trust God, knowing that He will protect us and provide for us. Remember, He can help us accomplish all that we, under our own power, are incapable of doing and that it is He who provides the necessities for our daily lives. We also need to live lives of Justice by behaving towards others as we would like to be treated especially when it comes to forgiveness. God will only forgive us to the extent we forgive others. If we hold grudges we need to go to confession and receive the grace to forgive.

Finally, we come to the reading from St. Paul to Titus, a Greek convert of Paul’s who was on the Island of Crete in the Mediterranean. Paul has obviously preached crusades on Crete and is now bent on establishing the Church there to ensure that the converts to Christianity are spiritually well-nourished. St. Paul wants to be quite sure that Titus understands what it means to be a pastor so he enumerates all the qualities that are needed in one who would be a leader of the Church.

Those who are in positions of leadership in the Church have the authority from God to teach and correct, when necessary, and to encourage people in living out their baptismal vows. They must be good examples of what it means to follow Jesus. Parish priests, like Titus, have been sent by God with complete authority, having been given the grace at ordination to accomplish what God asks of him.

In this reading, Paul reminds Titus, and all of us, just what the Gospel is all about. It brings us grace through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For our part, we need to respond generously this penitential season, and always, to the One who gave his life “to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing what is right.”