God pursues us, again and again, inviting and guiding us to what is good
By Shawn Reeves
First Sunday of Lent/Feb. 18
Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25:4-5,6-7,8-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15
Catholics are often accused of a mentality of “earning” our salvation, of emphasizing our response to God as if we were the singular cause of graces received. However, my observation is that all Christians fall prey to an exaggeration of our agency in growing closer to God. From our perspective, at times, it is we who have faithfully initiated prayer. It is we who have devoted ourselves to scriptural reading. It is we who have entered ourselves into worship. It is we.
The reality is that it is always God first. It is always God instigating, ushering our souls along. As we gradually slip into the impression that our spiritual lives are principally directed by our own designs, we then encounter biblical reminders like today. While Noah built an altar of thanksgiving to God (in the verses just before our first reading), he does not request a covenant of God. It is God who spontaneously institutes it. It is always God who initiates.
God takes it upon Himself to reach outward and engage Noah. Christ triumphantly leaves the desert and reaches out to humanity with the message of God’s Kingdom. And even in death, St. Peter proclaims in our second reading, Jesus victoriously reaches out to those who had passed away in the days of Noah, extending the invitation of salvation to them. God is always the principal agent leading us to what is good for us.
WE ARE PURSUED
Just as the Holy Spirit “drove” Jesus into the desert, the Holy Spirit is the one who initiates every moment of prayer, every embracing of the Scriptures, every faithful attendance of Mass, every impulse toward confession, every reflection on the Lord. It is the Holy Spirit who compels us to undertake all these things, guiding us into where we will grow most, where we will advance in relationship with God.
And when he does this, God is always proven to be a master of renewal and spiritual rehabilitation, as today’s readings also show us. In a few concise verses, Jesus restores and purifies mankind’s sordid history with God. He is tempted in the desert amongst the wild beasts. Just as Adam was tempted among the beasts of Eden and fell, or as Noah had his faith in God tested among the beasts of the ark, or as the Hebrew people battled their fickle proclivities amid the wilderness of the desert in the Exodus, so Jesus breaks into all those events, uniting Himself to them, and reclaims them through His own perfect devotion to the Father.
At every stage of human history and in every moment in our personal lives, God actively pursues us even before we pursue Him.
While an angel exiled Adam from Eden, angels, instead, minister to Jesus, the New Adam. While Noah remained in the ark for 40 days, enduring the consequence of mankind’s wickedness through Satan’s influence, Jesus remains in the desert for 40 days resisting Satan’s influence.
When He went to preach to the spirits in “prison” (Hades — the abode of the dead) “who awaited their Savior” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 633), can we imagine him preaching anything other than “See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you. . . . This is the time of fulfillment”? And when the faithful are baptized, it is not “another flood to devastate the earth” but a new “flood” of grace, “which saves you now.”
At every stage of human history and in every moment in our personal lives, God actively pursues us even before we pursue Him. His behavior is a living echo of those words to Noah, “I will recall the covenant I have made.” God continuously and intimately reaches out to us and penetrates our circumstances. Certainly, the Kingdom of God is at hand.
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.