First Sunday of Lent
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: March 10, 2019
Do you dare to go out into the desert?
The Hebrew people wandered through the desert for 40 years before coming to the promised land. Jesus went out into the desert to face temptations for 40 days before beginning his ministry.
In the early church around the third century, numbers of Christians chose to go and live in the desert. They were leaving the corruption of their society to live the Gospel in a more authentic way. They were called the Desert Fathers.
It seems that the desert was often a place people went to see more clearly, to purify their spirituality, to live in union with God. In the desert they were able to be freer from distractions, to focus on their inner life, to see what really mattered. There they were able to grow in holiness and wisdom.
But, the desert was not an escape. In the desert they faced real temptations, they had to face their inner demons. They saw the truth about themselves and had to overcome the dark sides of their humanity.
Jesus faced these temptations. The temptation to compromise by striving for power, or fame, or wealth, or a comfortable safe life. By overcoming this he was able to embrace a life and ministry rooted in truth and love.
So, what about us today? How do we enter the desert today?
Sometimes we are brought into deserts in our life against our will. Suffering and grieving is like a desert that many of us face at times in our life. It might be caused by the death of a loved one, by a divorce, by some sudden illness.
These moments in life can lead us into an inner desert where we are faced with seeing ourselves and life in a new way. Suffering and grieving are like a desert that we enter. If we face the temptations there and remain in God then this suffering and grieving can actually lead us to greater wisdom and holiness.
Sometimes we are brought into deserts in our life through some dark night of the soul. When our faith is challenged, when I do not feel the presence of God.
Sometimes this happens when we have been hurt by someone or when faced with scandals where we are let down by important figures like our parents, or our bishops or priests. When faced with these difficult challenges to our faith it can be like a desert where we face temptations to give up or to give in to bitterness. But, these dark nights of the soul can also force us to go deeper in our faith, to go beyond a superficial or simplistic faith.
Though life leads us into deserts at times, we can also choose to enter a desert.
Lent is a time in which we are called to go out deliberately into the desert. What are these deserts we can enter during Lent? Silence, prayer, fasting from something (food, tv, social media, …), giving away money or possessions for the good of others.
All of these are ways to create a desert in our life, where we will face our inner demons, will face temptations, will see things more clearly as they truly are. When we embrace these Lenten practices, it is like entering the desert to lead us to greater union with God and to greater wisdom and holiness.
Do you dare to enter into the desert? It might be deserts that come to us in life, such as grieving, or dark nights of the soul, when our faith is tested. During Lent we choose deserts to enter, by entering silence, prayer, fasting, almsgiving. When we dare to enter these deserts, with the temptations and challenges that they force us to face, they become a path to wisdom, humility, to greater union with God.