In the bible the desert is a place of encounter with God. It was in the desert that God first revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, where God formed His people, the Israelites, into a nation as He lead them from slavery in Egypt through the desert to freedom in the Promised Land, and it was in the desert where God first revealed the identity of Jesus as the Son of God when He was baptized by John the Baptist. Seeking that same encounter with God, many early Christians left the world behind and went into the solace of the desert. This Lent you and I are invited to continue that centuries old practice by going out into the spiritual desert of Lent to encounter our Savior.
For the early Christians, the desert was a place of special closeness to God. When they journeyed into the desert they were surrounded only by the vast dry sand around them and the sky above them. They had no secure place to seek refuge, no place where they could retreat and hide from earthly dangers. Through our Lenten practices of fasting, penance and almsgiving, you and I create that desert environment for ourselves. In this spiritual desert, as we journey this season of Lent, we, like Jesus and those early Christians will be exposed to emptiness and the unknown which provides us the perfect opportunity to turn to God, who “holds the whole world in his hands and who can be everywhere present with men and knows them and is able to help them with his creative power, no matter where they are.”1
In today’s Gospel Jesus goes out into the desert, a practice that He would repeat time and time again. Throughout His lifetime Jesus went into the desert to be with His heavenly Father and then returned to minister to His people. Yet as we hear in today’s Gospel, when Jesus goes into the desert, He who is fully God, yet also fully human, was left vulnerable to temptation. If we are Christians, followers of Christ, then shouldn’t we expect to face temptations as well.
Whenever we make an effort to grow closer to God, we should be prepared for a struggle; the struggle between the temptations of our old self versus the inner desire to grow closer to Christ. Yet we should not be disturbed by this adversity because it is simply part of life and even Jesus was not exempt from it. Regardless of the struggles we face, our God is able to sympathize with our weaknesses; after all He was tested in every way, yet without sin. Having experienced our weakness Himself, Jesus shows us that this adversity doesn’t mean failure. Rather the example of Jesus Christ shows us that if we are willing to fight it off, temptation only makes us stronger.
This life we live is a battle, where we are challenged to prefer heaven over earth; to prefer eternal values to the passing things of this world. Fortunately our Lord does not leave us alone in this personal battle with the devil. He who did battle with the devil and overcame His temptations, understands our struggles and gives us the tools we need to follow him through temptation to eternal life. He gives us the sacraments to fortify us and the lives of the saints who have gone before us as the battle plan, but we must engage these tools to overcome our own personal temptations. Why not make a resolution to attend the sacrament of confession this Lent, or perhaps find time to attend Mass during the week, or even to read a good spiritual book to help guide you through this Lenten season?
My friends the battle is real. If we are going to be followers of Christ, then we need to follow His example and stand up to ward off the attacks of the devil’s temptation. No solider goes into battle unprepared, rather he spends months preparing for the battle through intense training. Why should we? This season of Lent is our time to train. Through fasting, penances, and works of charity we strengthen ourselves to fight the battles of the temptations in our lives.
To be truly Catholic requires us to live the life of Jesus Christ. During this season of Lent, the Church invites us to live with Jesus in the Desert. She invites us through our acts of fasting, penance, and charity to undergo trials with Him and at the end of these 40 days to come out of the desert ready to share the joy of the Easter Season with Him. Yet the choice is ours. We can freely choose to go out to be with the Lord in the desert, and in enduring those challenges and temptations come out stronger or we can choose to simply let this season of Lent pass by. Perhaps the biggest temptation of this Lent will be to remain where we are because we are comfortable. The choice is ours. Will we go out into the spiritual desert of lent to encounter Christ, or will we just Lent pass by?