“We are in the desert because we have been invited there.”
—Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, A Holy Lent Good Catholic Series
My brother-in-law died a few weeks ago, rather suddenly. Saddened by this loss and dealing with the void that is now present in all of our lives since his passing, I could especially identify with the Gospel reading from the First Sunday of Lent. This Lent, in particular, I find myself in my own desert experience.
Life’s desert seasons come in many forms. The loss of a loved one. A prolonged illness. Being stuck in a job and finding no fulfillment. A rebellious child. A troubled marriage. An addiction. These can all be deserts.
There can be deserts of the spiritual kind, too. We all have those times when we feel stale, lifeless, unproductive; when prayer seems like a struggle and we don’t feel God’s presence in our life.
When we are in the desert, it can feel like God is not "doing anything" or that he has set us aside and no longer pays attention to our cries. Or maybe we think that it’s our fault—that we are just "not up to the spiritual task" somehow.
But God is always at work. He uses our desert experiences in many ways. St. Faustina once mentioned in her diary that there were times when she sought the Lord with all of her heart, yet He would remain silent. In doing so, she said, He was drawing her deeper.
Scripture also reminds us of this fact:
And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out upon you, and your foot did not swell, these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him.
As we read these words from Scripture, we can recognize what the desert does for us. It humbles us. It reveals what is in our hearts. It disciplines us and helps us to revere the Lord.
In the Good Catholic series, A Holy Lent, Father Kirby points out that we go to the desert during Lent because we are invited there.
What a beautiful reminder this is: that Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, accompanies us to the desert each Lent. She understands what it is that we can learn there. She knows that God has placed in our human hearts a desire to know ourselves so that we can truly discover our need for Him.
During her Lenten liturgy and with her teaching and the Sacraments, the Church brings us to the place where Our Lord is. After all, He is the only true consolation in the desert. He is Emmanuel (God with us) who accompanies us in grief, ministers to us when we are lost or feel alone, feeds us when we need nourishment.
When Lent is over and we have traveled from the desert to the glory of the Easter Resurrection, the Church rejoices with us.
But today, while we are in the midst of this Lenten journey, let us remember that Jesus summons us to the desert. He awaits us there. He does not demand anything from us, but simply asks us to surrender our cares and concerns to Him.
Let us go to Him in our hearts, regardless of how busy or burdened we are, regardless of whether we feel close to Him or not, knowing that the desert is a place of deep encounter, not of superficial escape. It is a place where we come to Him empty-handed so that He might fill us.
Questions for Quiet Reflection:
For today’s day of prayer, prayerfully consider the following questions. Take one or all of them, or pray about something else, but in any case: spend some quiet time with the Lord today.
- What does it mean for me today to be in the desert with Our Lord?
- In what way might I unite my current suffering with Christ’s suffering? Have I failed to unite my suffering with Christ’s, so that I can grow in holiness? How can I do that better this Lent?
- Are my hands empty during prayer so that I can ask Our Lord to fill them, or are they full of things I want from Him?
- When I want to feel better, where do I seek consolation? Do I truly long for the solace that only He can bring or do I search for consolation in the things of this world?