Starting Lent in the Desert

Starting Lent in the Desert March 15, 2019

If you travel to Israel today, you will find a monastery built on a mountain from which you can see one of the oldest cities in the world, Jericho, continuously inhabited for 11,000 years.  From the monastery you can also see the river Jordan where Jesus was baptized.  This monastery, run by Greek Orthodox monks, marks the spot in the desert where every Lenten journey begins: with Jesus in the desert for forty days.

Saint Luke writes that Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit for forty days of prayer and sacrifice.  He remained separated from the world in order to prepare himself for the mission that God the Father had confided to him.  As an athlete practices before a race or game, in the same way a soldier trains for months before going to battle, in the same manner a musician practices his or her instrument every day before a concert, Jesus prepares his soul before beginning his public ministry.  He has to be strengthened before setting out on his mission.

During Lent, we imitate these forty days that Jesus spent in the desert.  It is a time for us to exercise our soul, our whole being, in a way that for the rest of the year we may be ready to be faithful to Christ.  The season invites us to do penance, to offer sacrifices to the Lord, imitating Christ himself.

If we can offer God something small such as ‘eating less’ or ‘not eating this’, if we can ‘limit our cell phone use’ or ‘internet use’, if we can ‘restrain from sweets’ or ‘get up a bit earlier to pray’, our ability to choose what is good will be strengthened.  If we can say ‘no’ to small things, if we can deprive ourselves of small things, we will be ready to say ‘no’ when temptations and occasions of sin arise.

As a priest, I have met many people who say to me, “Father, the day I decided to get closer to God, the day I decided to change my life, I began to have so many difficulties and problems.”  Perhaps you have experienced this or know someone who has.  The enemy will do everything in his power to sidetrack us, especially when we make the decision to grow closer to God.  When the enemy sees that our efforts will bring about good fruit in our lives and in the lives of others, he will do everything in his power to dishearten us, tempt us and separate us from God.  This is exactly what happens to Jesus in the desert.  Jesus is preparing himself for his public ministry, a ministry which alters the course of history and one that today, 2000 years later, continues to bear great fruit throughout the world.  The devil was desperate to sidetrack God’s plan of salvation.  When good things are coming, we must be vigilant and not put down our guard.  We must resist temptation even more and remain strong.

Lent is a season to get things right with God by strengthening both our will and desire to be faithful disciples of Jesus.  Lent is an invitation to join Jesus in the desert so that by imitating Him we can grow in holiness and strength.

Pictures are mine, all rights reserved.  Top: Paracas National Reserve, Peru (2015), Bottom: Jericho (2015).

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