Till the Ground: A Maryknoll Lenten Reflection

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By Helen Graham, M.M.

First Sunday of Lent

Sunday, February 18, 2024
Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7 | Rom 5:12-19 | Mt 4:1-11

This Sunday we begin a six-week period leading up to the major feast of the Christian calendar — the feast of the Resurrection. It is a time of deep soul-searching, both individually and collectively. How have I, personally, lived up to my covenantal relationship with God? How have we, collectively, responded to the Creator God who has placed us in this world to “till the ground,” to care for the garden?

The Hebrew root underlying the English “to till,” has a wide range of meaning and can also be rendered “to serve.”

If one thinks of tilling the ground as a form of service, one is led to envision a relationship to the earth involving service or caring for, as opposed to ruling over it. Then Lent becomes a time to evaluate our service of God’s earth in the individual practices of our life and in our collective efforts in the realm of public policy.

In the past several decades we have become increasingly and painfully aware of how we have failed as a human race to serve and care for God’s earth. If we were not yet aware a decade ago, we have been forced to awareness in the last few years in the face of disasters of enormous proportions due to climate change.

We have witnessed extreme weather events including devasting floods, prolonged droughts, raging wildfires, violent storms, deadly heat waves. We observe species extinction due to the effects of climate change and human activity on habitats.

We are painfully aware of our inadequate response to the urgent need to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.

Conscious of our serious failure to serve the earth — God’s earth — we hold hope in the covenant of today’s readings, “I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.”

As we turn to the gospel selection, we find Jesus in the wilderness, the same wilderness where the tribe of Israel entered into covenant with God, and where, like the Israelites, Jesus’ commitment was tested. “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.”

Unlike the Israelites in days past, Jesus passed the tests. From there, “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.’”

Maryknoll Sister and award-winning author Helen Graham, from Brooklyn, New York, joined the Maryknoll Sisters in 1956. In 1967, she began her five decades of service in the Philippines, where she taught Sacred Scripture and worked with political detainees.

 The 2024 Lenten Reflection Guide from the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns contains contributions from missioners around the world.

 Featured image: A mother holds her child during flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2017. (Courtesy of Kompas/Hendra A Setyawan/UN World Meteorological Organization via Flickr)

Questions for reflection

What’s one way perhaps you have failed to care for the earth, and are in need of reconciliation?

What’s one way you can serve the earth during Lent?


Pledge of Commitment
To Protect and Heal God’s Creation

We have come to renew our covenant with God and
with one another in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
We have come to help protect God’s creation.
We have come as followers of Jesus to commit
ourselves anew to one another and to heal
injustice and poverty.
We have come to stand together against all threats to
We have come to discover some new beauty every day
in God’s creation: the sunrise and sunset, birds,
flowers and trees, rainbows in the sky, the stars,
the many forms of life in the forest.
We have come to listen to the “music of the universe”-
water flowing over rocks, the wind, trees bending
in the wind, raindrops pattering the roof.
We will remember always that God speaks to us
through the beauty of his creation, and we will try
our best to answer God’s call to reverence all that
he has created.

– United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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About the author

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, based in Washington, D.C., is a resource for Maryknoll on matters of peace, social justice and integrity of creation, and brings Maryknoll’s mission experience into U.S. policy discussions. Visit www.maryknollogc.org.