1st Sunday of Lent ~ 26 February 2023 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Genesis 2: 7-9; 3:1-7; Responsorial: Psalm 51; II: Romans 5: 12, 17-19; Gospel: Matthew 4: 1 -11

LENT has begun. Ash Wednesday gave us the opportunity to receive the sacramental of ashes upon our foreheads with the words “Repent and believe the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Both of these statements affirm our humble reality, that we are sinners in need of ongrowing repentance and that we are very mortal creatures with the gift of life from God.

Our ashes have been washed away in the simple need of washing up. Yet their message and sacramental power should only grow through these forty days.

These days of Lent, these six weeks will bring us to hear, see and follow our Lord and Savior from the time of temptation in the wilderness, up to the Mount of Transfiguration with the apostles, on then to heal the man born blind. Our pilgrimage then intensifies as we see the raising of Lazarus from the dead and realize our call to life in the Holy Spirit. Then we triumphantly follow Jesus into Jerusalem strewn with palm and olive branches. But this sacred triumph quickly changes into the Holy Week of our Lord’s Passion.

Our Lenten journey concludes with the Feast of Our Lord’s Supper, Good Friday, and then the gathering at the tomb for the triumph of Easter Vigil.

Our Lenten observances may, hopefully, bring us to share in the Way of the Cross. This devotion is an ancient and powerful way that brings us to better walk in the path or the steps of Jesus. But in all these graces we are being called to follow, walk ever closer with, and to Jesus our Lord. It is holy and very good to seek the pathway of Christ. But it can be even more holy and blessed to seek to follow in the footprints of Jesus now, and always.

Again to seek and follow the path of Christ is profoundly blessed. And certainly, there is no way to literally see or follow the actual footprints of Christ. But as we remember that our Lenten, our Christian journey is to walk in the Spirit we can then see beyond the limitations of the literal, physical limitations of this world. Allowing God to heal our blindness (Lent, 4th Sunday) we will start to see the ways of Christ and the spiritual realities of His holy footprints. It is no accident that the Lenten pilgrimage concludes at the Feast of our Lord’s Supper with an extraordinary act… the washing of the disciple’s feet. As we draw ever closer to Christ, and His sacred Passion, Jesus brings our path to the times and places of cleansing. The hands that would soon be pierced by the nails must cleanse our feet, our ways of wandering from His holy Presence.

The painting that concludes this message, “Compassion” by W.A. Bouvereau in many ways illustrates this quest to see and follow in the footprints of Jesus. For to do so is a quest of true and holy “compassion”. It is this quest to share in the real passion of our Lord that brings us to walk in His steps and be brought into the cross and the embrace of the Crucified. These steps involve many challenges, needs, blessings, and trials. But it is in this season of Lent we focus especially on the footprints of faith, Penance, and love to which Jesus will bring us.

Footprints of Faith: The footprints of Jesus in his incarnation left clear footprints of faith. From his youth in the temple, his journey to Galilee and the healing, preaching, and obedience to the plan of the Father were all infused with unwavering faith. Even the final steps before his betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane were steps of a deep trust in the plans of his heavenly Father. Often the footprints of Jesus, walking upon the stormy sea or among the needy multitudes were steps that defied all-natural abilities and provisions. Jesus walked the steps of faith. And these holy footprints of Him without sin also always will lead us to the healing mercy of penance.

Footprints of Penance: Jesus, of course, being without sin had no need to repent or to be penitent as we may commonly think of this grace. Yet it is especially in looking closely at his penitential footprints we learn something very important. Jesus was indeed always free from sin. Yet, created in our image he always knew fully the challenges of human free will. It is in the Gospel for this first Sunday of Lent we see our Savior being confronted by Satan and tempted to follow in ways, not of Heaven. Jesus in the wilderness, at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, in the Garden of Gethsemane always had the opportunity to say no to the will of his heavenly Father. Jesus always had the freedom to do his own thing. But looking carefully and honestly at His holy footprints, we see our Lord knew well the freedom and peace of saying Yes! to the will of the Father. Jesus knew what it meant to turn away from lesser things and false ways to the fullness, however difficult the way of His Father would be. Jesus shows us how and where our penance, our seeking to turn away from the lies of satan to the Truths of God will always lead us, ever closer to Him and his love.

Footprints of Love: Our sharing the passion, the compassion, and the footprints of Jesus will faithfully and penitently always lead us to grow in love. This love of God we see especially in the journey to Golgotha. The actual footprints of Jesus must have been, by this time, stained with the blood from the scourgings and beatings he had endured. The healing, the forgiveness found in the Blood of Christ we consume from the chalice was first shared in the stumbling steps Jesus took in the dust and gravel of the path to Calvary. His last steps, before being nailed to the cross lead us to the pinnacle of love, to the wood of the cross. And it would be from his cross Jesus would show us the simple fullness of God’s love. God’s love proclaimed in His Word “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” and his deeds as in his dying he leads us to the tomb and soon to the amazing power of the footprints of love seen in the resurrected Christ.

As we begin our Lenten journey, as we renew our Christian journey let us each and together seek the footprints of Jesus and follow Him in faith, penance, and love.

Compassion by William-Adolphe Bouvereau 1897