flood Noah

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

2024 FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (Cycle B – usus recentior)

17/18 February


God’s promise, long prepared, is still for us.

The worst fear of a school pupil is the dread of a spot test: no notice, no preparation, with the demand of an assessment of work taught so long ago – yesterday. “Why didn’t you tell us before, Father,” they might say, while finding the derivative by first principles, or applying Aristotle’s doctrine of forms to a cupcake. The human heart needs preparation; it brings great peace to us to know where we are going, and how we can be ready to get there.

Even Our Lord, in today’s Gospel, prepares Himself in His Sacred Humanity, for His public ministry: forty days and forty nights in the desert, with animals and angels ministering to Him. In imitation of Him, then, we have begun our Lenten “desert”, which calls us to deepen our prayer, bodily restraint and works of charity. This growth in us is objectively valuable, but it is also a preparation for that Great Work of prayer, restraint and Divine Charity, made manifest on the Cross. Lent prepares us to be spiritually ready for the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

But God had been preparing the world for this moment for a very long time, ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve. Since their original sin, where man forfeited the life of grace in Eden, God did not let us lose hope: He promised that, in the fullness of time, He would come to save us. No human power could achieve this; not even our own efforts would make this possible. It would be God Himself, always taking the initiative, Who would come to set us free in His Incarnate Son.

But this work of our redemption is something unlike the world has ever seen. God knew that it would be difficult for us to comprehend it. Our minds are slow, and are hearts are stubborn. And so God, in His generosity, prepared the world, episodically, for the coming of Our Lord in the flesh. In His dealings with the Hebrew people – of whom Noah was one – God was unfolding a history of salvation that would be fulfilled at a time when these former covenants would be superseded by a “new and eternal covenant”. It is Saint Peter, who in the Second Reading, tells us what the early Church Fathers would examine in greater detail: the reading of the Old Testament, for a Christian, takes on a new and full meaning when we see the foreshadowing of Jesus in its people, stories and laws. Those ancient accounts, caught up in history, are “types”, Saint Peter tells us – and these “types and shadows have their ending,” as Saint Thomas would reflect, when “the Newer Rite” is here, made present in Jesus. In this way, we are eager to do what the Collect asks: to find the riches hidden in Christ, or of Christ in the Old Testament.

We could use the story of the Flood to show it. The slow-minded, hard-hearted Hebrews are rampant in sin. It is destroying them, and their relationship with the Lord. And so, for forty days and nights, the destructive power of sin is made manifest. But to those who choose the Lord, and are chosen by Him, there is safety and salvation in the ark. This gathered community are spared the vicious effects that sin brings about; they end their journey in peace, with the hope of a rainbowed promise from God, Whom they honour with sacrifice.

The truths contained in this account remain true, of course. But surely they point us, in the midst of our forty days and forty nights, to something – Someone? – else. Jesus is the New Moses, Who has gathered a new community, the Church, into the ark of His Mystical Body. Access to this barque of safety is granted by water through Holy Baptism. It brings life and death; death to sin, and the lower, baser impulses of the body; life by means of incorporating us into Christ, in Whom is our only hope and salvation. With Jesus, there is hope and salvation; without Him, we are hopeless, and drowned. And God’s promise of the Messiah, the Saviour, is perfectly fulfilled in Him. And in His honour, we offer the Sacrifice of the New Covenant, the Mass, in which another flood – of the Blood of the Son, flowing from His Side and this altar – is “poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins”.

To read the Scriptures in this way brings them bear witness to the True Word of God, Who is Jesus Christ. In the Church’s daily prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, we will read throughout Lent of these various types and figures that point us to Jesus, Who has shown God’s saving love to us. In a sense, this culminates at the Easter Vigil in which Our Lord is seen as the New Moses, leading us from the desert of sin to the Promised Land of holiness and heaven. It is Jesus Who will be recognised as the True Passover Lamb, Who takes away the sins of the world, and Whose flesh we eat as faithful pilgrims, eager to do His Will.

But how will this reading of Scripture help us to prepare well for Easter?

  1. We will be reminded that God’s stance towards sin, in all its ugliness, has not changed. God still calls us to abandon the death that comes with rejecting Him. Sin is not more acceptable today, even if modern voices try to propose a new Gospel of tolerance towards disorder.


  1. But we will also be reminded that God is patient towards sinners, whom He calls to abandon sin and come to deeper communion with Him. The Lord, Who was also tempted by the devil, has known all of our temptations – and, through the Cross, has overcome them all. We have, in Him, access to grace that can assist us in the fight against sin and selfishness. We have recourse to Our Lady’s prayers, and many other spiritual graces; we can call on the Lord when we struggle to do what is right, and ask Him for His help.


  1. And when we don’t respond well to His help in avoiding sin, and find ourselves falling once again, the Lord doesn’t abandon us. He invites us, members of the Ark by baptism, to the “ark of the confessional”, a life-raft of grace, in which He restores us to a state of grace. There, in this space, where we can confess our sinfulness, God confesses His faithfulness, being true to His promise to bring healing to our destructiveness. Here, God shows Himself to be merciful and faithful to those who keep His covenant, made present in Holy Confession.

It, too, is a preparation: we are made ready, even if unworthy, to come to the altar, to participate with devotion at the Sacrifice, just as Noah and his family had done after the Flood. This Sacrifice is even greater, fulfilling all of those types and forms of the Old Testament. Not only is God honoured in it, but God is offered in it – for love of us. His love, like a flood, flows from the pierced side of His Son, to this altar, for our salvation. And in that flood, we are saved.

Let us, then, turn to Him, Who has been preparing human hearts and minds with patient love, and ask Him to make us ready not only for Holy Communion at this Mass, and for Easter, but for eternity in Heaven. Amen.