In this week’s Gospel we see Our Lord in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. That’s where we get the idea of the 40 days of Lent. He is hungry, surrounded by wild beasts, fried by the heat during the day, frozen by the cold at night, and he suffers terrible temptations. That’s a long time in the desert – what was the point? It is also interesting to note that the Gospel says He was lead into the desert by the Holy Spirit. How can it be God’s will to lead him into such a place? The Holy Spirit allowed this to happen for some reason, but why? There are really two deserts that I would like to explore: one is the desert God brings us into, and the second is the desert we can choose to go into. The word desert and in fact the word Lent, makes me a bit frightened, and want to curl up a bit, I much prefer the word dessert!…….but I want to try and explain that Lent is good for us, and can help us understand the wisdom of God.
Firstly, I would like to talk about the desert the Lord brings us into. We don’t have to think of the big things in life like death, or serious illness, natural disasters, betrayal etc., which although are very real, they happen less frequently. There are many little deserts that we are lead to each day. Think of the bad news we receive, bills in the post, the plans that don’t go as I expected, new taxes, the car breaking down, the person or persons who drive me up the walls. Things happen each day that challenge us. Life is not at all straight forward and rarely goes according to how I plan. The Lord is telling us however that nothing happens outside of His providence. He is always the God of Love, regardless of how I feel, He is always our loving Father, so in other words there is a purpose to everything, a motivation of love, and I can learn from each thing that comes my way. Each thing somehow happens to bring a greater good from it. Even the death, mockery and suffering of His only Son had a purpose. This is where trust comes in. Jesus wants us to trust Him. Each little thing presents an opportunity to grow, to progress, to be freer, but we know it’s not easy. It is not like flicking a switch. It is difficult and we fail time and time again. We often see however that, after some time, something good came from something we didn’t want. You often hear people say: “ya know… that, was the best thing that could have happened to me, I learned x, y and z…my marriage is now stronger……I see now what the problem was, etc etc” We will fail sometimes, there is no avoiding this, but the key is to keep trying, and try to trust God when things come your way. Accept what happens, not in ignoring what happens, but speak to God about it. Express your feelings, worries and fears to Him. Choose someone you trust, and speak to that person about it. Don’t bottle it inside. Bring it into the open, and see what’s real. You will be amazed at what you discover.
The second desert is one I choose to go into. In Lent we typically give things up, or take things on etc. What is the point of this? Our Lord told His disciples to “deny themselves and to pick up their cross and to follow Him”. It seems this desert we choose is related to the desert He leads us into. Let me explain – we know that if we just keep on eating, drinking, smoking, watching tv, playing video games etc. that we feel down and low after it. We need a balance in life. None of these things are bad in themselves, but in Lent we discover that maybe I eat, or drink too much. I play PlayStation too much etc., and that the balance in my life is therefore affected. I am therefore sadder. Too much of these things lead us away from God. So denying ourselves, makes us more awake so to speak. Professional athletes and top business people know this. I feel sharper, and I can make better decisions, when I live a more balanced lifestyle. BUT this does not just mean more exercise, more vitamins and more sleep, which of course are important. It is small things that add up, that are important, and contribute to my happiness. Small things can include little sacrifices such as maybe turning off the radio in the car every now and again, say a few prayers for the Holy Souls or the hungry, sit in silence in the Church for 10 mins wasting your time with the Lord, and especially works of charity – these have the greatest value. The world needs your love. So if I have a lonely neighbour I should visit him/her, I should try visiting the nursing home, pray for those who annoy me, maybe not entertaining bad thoughts that come to me about someone, and I should try and be kind, thinking of the other person. Maybe they need me to be quiet and just listen. Maybe they need a hug, or a kind word. This is all dying to oneself, choosing to enter the desert, and this is what Jesus meant, and He showed us the way. It is much better to think of Lent in this positive sense, rather than things I must give up, as this makes us then give up things for the wrong reasons. I give up sweets as I want to lose weight for instance.
So this Lent, let us try and do kind acts of charity, maybe one a day, and bring God’s love to the world. This is what the world needs, but also what you and I need, and what in turn will make us much happier. As Jesus Himself said “it is in giving that we receive.”