We Live in the - Time of Fulfillment
Jesus' first words in the Gospel of Mark are mysterious: "This is the time of fulfillment." What does he mean? With these words, Jesus is summing up the entire history of humanity, the fulcrum point of which is his own passion, death, and resurrection. With these words, Jesus Christ ushers in the third and final age in this history.
First there was the age of creation, when mankind lived in the unbroken communion with God. This ended with original sin, which drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden and into the desert of fallen human nature. Thus began the second age, the age of the promise. God promised Adam and Eve that he would send a savior, a holy king, to free the human family from domination by the devil that their sin had caused. In this second age, God gradually prepared the world, through the education of his chosen people Israel, for the arrival of that savior and king, Jesus Christ. When Christ finally arrived, it was the "time of fulfillment," the fulfillment of God's promise to send that savior. In this third and final period of human history, God actually enters into time and space in order to rescue it from sin and destruction. He does this through his incarnation, which is extended through all time and space through the life of his Church. The end of this third age will yield the new heavens and the new earth, the end of the Kingdom's beginning, and the beginning of its maturity.
Lent is a time to focus on essentials, and nothing is more essential, in a world obsessed with stock markets, political polls, and movie stars, than remembering where we came from and where we're going. This knowledge, of where we have come from and where we are going, has always been a source of courage for Christian saints and martyrs. It can be source of courage for us too. And we need courage, because doing what is right and staying faithful to our friendship with Christ is not always easy.
St Tarsicius found this out the hard way. He was a young Christian living in Rome during the early centuries, when Christianity was illegal and the Church experienced frequent waves of violent persecution. He was either a deacon or an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist - and some sources say that he was only a teenaged altar boy. One day while he was carrying the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Rome to Christian prisoners, he was stopped and questioned. It seems that someone had recognized him as a Christian. He didn't deny his faith, but when they demanded that he hand over the Sacrament, he refused. The disagreement turned violent, and when Tarsicius still refused to surrender his precious burden, he was beaten to death right there with stones and clubs. Through it all, he never stopped clutching the small container in which he kept the Eucharist. When the mob had finally finished him off, they pried open his hands only to find them completely empty. God had honored the young Christian's faith and miraculously protected the Sacrament from desecration.
In today's world, there are times when we have to hold on to our Christian principles as tightly and courageously as St Tarsicius held onto the Eucharist, and there are even times when we have to be ready to suffer for them. Keeping the bigger picture in mind - that we are living in the "time of fulfillment" - helps us do that.
"This is the time of fulfillment." Through this history lesson, Jesus is reminding us of where we came from and, more importantly, where we're going: to eternal life with him in heaven.
Jesus tells us how to get there: "Repent and believe in the gospel." These two things should characterize our spiritual lives during Lent.
First, repent; turn away from self-centered and selfish habits; break them! Jesus eagerly invites us to repent, and he also gives us the perfect way to do so: the sacrament of confession. Jesus invented confession because he knew we would need it. The same devil that tempted Jesus in the desert is still in business, tempting us in the desert of our consumerist and relativistic culture. Repentance and confession give God a chance to pour his unconditional mercy into our thirsty souls.
Our second Lenten exercise is to "believe in the gospel." Believing in the gospel means trusting Jesus enough to do his will; it means saying with our decisions, not just our words: "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done." We find his will in the Ten Commandments, the beatitudes, the teachings of his Church, and dictates of our conscience. Greed, lust, laziness, impatience, dishonesty - these are anti-gospel values. Believing in the gospel means leaving them aside in favor of generosity, faithfulness, responsibility, sincerity, and patient kindness. This is Christ's vision for our lives, one that he will help us live out, if we give him the chance.
In every Mass Jesus is coming among us to fill our hearts with the very strength that filled his heart, the strength which gave him the definitive victory over temptation, sin, and evil. Let's thank him for allowing us to live in the time of fulfillment, and let's ask him to help us repent and believe in the gospel.