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Dear Friends,

Last weekend, Ridgewood schools celebrated February Recess, a brief break in the not-so-routine experience of hybrid education. I doubt that many had the chance to get away, considering the protocols surrounding travel. So it was not much of a chance for renewal, in body or mind. But, on this 1st Sunday of Lent, the Church celebrates a time of renewal, at least as it regards our spiritual life. It is a time to renew our commitment to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, if it's gone a little cold through all the struggles of living in the Covid world. On these next few Sundays, I want to spend a little more time on the Sunday scriptures, especially the Gospels, as each week we take this Lenten journey together. You know that I do the last page of the bulletin, the brief explanation of the weekly scripture and the reflections for the week. For the next several weeks, I just want to expand that a little. That exegesis of the readings, and the reflection questions that follow, will appear on the livestream and the worship aid, offering the possibility for those who join for that Mass that they might spend a few extra moments trying to see what God, through the Sacred Word, is speaking to us in these days.

First, a word about the 1st Readings for these first five weeks of Lent. As a faithful Jew, Jesus, in His preaching and teaching, reflected the Israelite identity as bound to a covenant relationship with God, a contract with God. In this covenant, Israel had responsibilities, God had responsibilities. But that understanding came about only slowly. Today's 1st Reading centers on the covenant with Noah, as God begins to form that relationship. Next Sunday it will center on Abraham, as God further defines that relationship. On the third Sunday, the covenant will become very specific, concretizing itself on Mount Sinai (in the Ten Commandments). The fourth Sunday's Old Testament reading will highlight Israel's failures relative to the covenant and the fifth Sunday's reading will bring us the promise of a new covenant which, we know as Christians, is the covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ.

Now on to today's Gospel. You'll notice something extraordinary about today's Gospel, the story of Jesus' temptation in the desert. It's short; it's really short, only two verses. It doesn't include the familiar allusions to the three- fold temptations, the bread/stone episode, the jumping off the Temple trick, or the kingdoms of the world promise. But it does say some eye-catching things in those short sentences, if only we're paying attention.

The first is that the Spirit "drove him out into the desert." Drove him. That's a pretty strong word. Jesus had just been baptized by John in the Jordan, and the Spirit had descended upon him, the same Spirit that now drives Jesus into the desert. There is an aura of compulsion contained in that word, but not by an outside force. In theology we know the Spirit comes forth from the Father and the Son. And so this driving is more of an interior compulsion. Jesus is driven into the desert, from deep within himself, to face, not a test, but to face his ultimate purpose as Son, to confront Satan.

Mark is the only evangelist to use here that proper name-Satan. Matthew and Luke simply say the devil. But Mark says Satan, meaning the adversary. Jesus is confronting the adversary, God's adversary and human kind's adversary, in an epic struggle of God on behalf of His creation, you and me. It is a struggle that begins here in the desert, the habitat of the evil spirits. Right in their own backyard, as it were, on their turf. God, in Jesus, is taking the fight to them, a fight He will win on the cross and in the empty tomb.

Interesting to note is the reference to the wild beasts and the angels. Some scholars believe that placing the two together is not so much a reference to that good vs. evil battle, as it is a prefiguring, a sort of prediction by Mark that the result of struggle, begun here but won on the cross, will be the restoration of creation as God intended it and Isaiah prophesied, the beasts (evil) and the angels (good) living together, as one with the One who unites all things in Himself.

Now what does this have to do with us, as we begin this Lent? We're given that answer in the last verses. Jesus returns from the desert and immediately begins preaching, the Kingdom is at hand, Believe! I was reading an interesting commentary by a spiritual writer who offered a life-changing insight that the original followers of Jesus imitated him long before they worshipped him. This then might be seen as our Lenten challenge-to do, in our lives, what Jesus just did-to confront evil, the adversary, face-to-face, in these days of Lent, and, for us, to change what needs changing. To confront our sins, head-on, and say no to them. If we want to follow Jesus' lead, we need to do something about what holds us back from being holier, nothing less will do. And He will join us in that struggle.
Have a holy Lent!

Be well, be safe and God Bless,
Fr. Ron

FROM THE PASTOR-PART 2
As we begin this season of Lent, besides the reflection that (I hope) you just read, I want to say a few words about the Annual Appeal, that supports so many ministries of the Archdiocese. First, as with so many charities, this is a time of struggle for the Archdiocese. It is driven as Jesus was in the Gospel to announce the Good News, to proclaim the Kingdom. This is its call from the Lord and nothing, not even a pandemic, can get in the way. But a pandemic can put up more than its share of obstacles. I ask everyone to reflect on those needs and be a part of the almost 400 parish households who help meet those needs.

If you go to the homepage of the parish website, and go down the icons on the left side, just below the icon for the parish bulletin, you will find the link to the video in which Cardinal Tobin explains the need for the Appeal. After viewing the video if you go back to the home page, the second icon down, in the center of the page, under the link to the Lenten activities offered by the parish, you will find a link to contribute on-line or you may use the materials sent to you from the Archdiocese in the mail. If you didn't get those materials, there are brochures and pledge envelopes on the tables at all the entrances of the church.

Perhaps you could make a pledge as part of your Lenten sacrifice, not only practicing sacrificial giving but helping to announce the Good News through the work of the Archdiocese. On a more practical level, every dollar over the parish goal of $135,000.comes back to the parish. In these days of Covid-reduced income, that rebate has proven to be a God send. Please help.

Be well, be safe and God Bless,
Fr. Ron

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