Navigating by Lighthouse: A Lesson in Humility

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent | Year B | February 18, 2024

One very dark and foggy night in the waters off the coast of Newfoundland, the captain of a large ship saw a tiny light moving toward him in the distance.  He told the radio operator to send a message: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”  A response came back from across the water: “Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees South to avoid a collision.”  The captain replied: “This is the captain of a U.S. Naval vessel.  I say again, divert your course.”  The voice from the small approaching light said: “No, you must divert your course.”  Angry now, the captain commanded: “This is the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, the second largest ship in the Unites States Atlantic fleet.  We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels.  I demand that you change your course 15 degrees North.  That’s one-five degrees North, or counter measures will be taken to ensure the safety of this ship.”  A moment later, the voice replied: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

In the Gospel today Jesus goes into the desert for forty days, and when he comes out he says: “The Kingdom of God is at hand– REPENT—and believe in the Gospel.”   REPENT means turn.  Change course.  Literally repent means turn around—180 degrees.  When marching, it means “about face.”  John the Baptist preached repentance—it was the major theme of his ministry.  Peter, when he preached the first public sermon after Pentecost, said: “REPENT” and be baptized, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37).  This call to repentance is often said when the ashes are put on your forehead on Ash Wednesday: “turn away from sin (repent), and be faithful to the Gospel.”

Lent is a time to repent.  To change course.  Maybe you don’t need a complete 180 turn.  (Maybe you do).  Perhaps you just need 15 degrees to the South.  All of us, during Lent, should evaluate “are we truly headed to the light”—not the lighthouse, but the light of Christ.  Now is the time to make course corrections—if you haven’t hit ground already.

Change is difficult.  It takes time and effort.  Our lives can get so complex, they are like aircraft carriers—kids, caravans, little destroyers circling around—once you get settled down with a house and a job and take on responsibilities, especially for a family, change is like trying to turn an aircraft carrier.  Moving to a new house or job can take months, even years accomplish.  Changing spiritually after bad habits have set in takes time also.  But with God’s help all things are possible.

The small acts of penance that the church call us to during Lent may not seem like much, but they can make a difference.  When we exercise our faith in seemingly small ways, like the rudder on a ship, small acts of love can change the course of our lives.  Small acts of devotion, a little prayer in the car on the way to work, a kind word to a spouse or loved one, prayers before meals, and especially the hidden things–the little sacrifices (things we give up) that only God sees—keep us on course, and can reap great rewards from God who sees what we do in secret. It takes time to change.  The Church realizes this.  We have 40 days for Lent.  It takes miles of ocean for an aircraft carrier to stop or change direction.  Our will may seem weak, and the force of habit strong, but with Gods help, we can repent.

One of the greatest sea captains of all time was Noah.  The story of Noah and the flood is in the first and second reading today. Noah captained the Ark through the worst flood in human history.  I don’t think the Ark even had a rudder; by faith, Noah allowed God to steer his boat completely.  The story of Noah and the Ark is much more than a children’s story.  It expresses the story of salvation.  The stormy sea, the rain, the flood, symbolize the world without God, the turmoil of sin and rebellion, the world in darkness and chaos. The ark represents God’s caring hand, guiding and protecting Noah’s family in a covenant of promise and hope.  St. Augustine saw the ark as the City of God—the new Ark is the Church, sometimes referred to as “the barque (boat) of Peter.”  Jesus is the captain of this ship.  As Lent begins, we are invited to get onboard, to renew our covenant with God.  Like the rainbow after the flood, God’s promise to forgive us and cleanse us and love us, is still shining forth in our age from the cross of Christ.

If you need help with navigation, and strength to turn the wheel, take some time with Jesus in prayer.  In the Gospel Jesus went into the desert 40 days to pray.  In the desert he was tempted by Satan, but also the angels ministered to him.  We, too, are called to confront our personal demons and resist temptation during Lent.  If we back away from the TV, the internet, the cell phone, to seek God and obey the Spirit, there will be opposition, but the angels will help us too.  In the desert Jesus’ mission became clear and he was strengthened for the journey ahead.

Lent is a time of new beginnings.  The Word LENT also means “springtime.”  It is a new beginning and a time to repent—change course.  During these next 40 days as we navigate toward Easter, to celebrate the resurrection, let Jesus be your light.  “Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel.”