In this week’s Angelus message, Pope Francis spoke about the days’ Gospel, in which Jesus spent 40 days in the desert (Mk 1:12-15). Perhaps you remember that, at the end of the forty days, Satan tempted our Lord three ways – by challenging him to change the stones into bread, by taunting him to show his power by casting himself down from the heights of the Temple, and luring him to obtain all the splendor of the kingdoms of the world in return for worshipping him. Basically, the devil tempted Jesus to lust, pride, and greed – three of the seven cardinal sins from which other sins stem.
During his address, the Holy Father pointed out that we, too, need our time in the wilderness in order to “say ‘no’ to worldliness, to ‘idols’, it helps us to make courageous choices in line with the Gospel and to strengthen our solidarity with our brothers and sisters.”
Also, during his address, Pope Francis announced that 50,000 copies of the booklet, “Safeguard your Heart,” would be distributed free to the crowds. The pocket-sized booklet contains the chief truths of the Catholic Church and is meant to be a source of meditation for the Faithful. He encouraged all to look into their hearts, because that’s where real conversion and spiritual growth begins. “Humanity needs justice, peace and love and we can have this only by returning with our hearts towards God who is the source of all this,” he said.
Pope Francis also reminded those present of his previous message about spending ten minutes a day contemplating the Gospel and talking heart-to-heart with Jesus (as I wrote about in my February 9 post).
Both of the Holy Father’s suggestions have the same thing in common: They both are urging us to take time out from the world and go into the desert of solitude so that God can deeply touch and transform us.
True, we still have to live our lives – we still have to go to work or school, we still have to shop and pay bills, we still have to carry on all the daily tasks required of us. All of that is inescapable. But we can go into the desert of our hearts, that quiet, solitary place in which only God and ourselves exist. With practice, we can remain there for extended periods of time despite the activity around us.
That’s because the kind of desert I’m talking about is an attitude, not a place.
We can do this by keeping our focus on God, remaining in dialog with him throughout the day and offering all that we think, do, and say to him. Maybe we can prune down our schedules to only what’s necessary. We might even want to pause here and there to visualize ourselves in an actual desert – sitting next to our Lord, perhaps.
When I get too wrapped up in things of the world, I like to repeat to myself our Lord’s words to Satan: “Man does not live by bread alone.” That’s an effective way for me to transport myself from the world to the desert.
I also find great motivation in the Psalms, especially this one:
A voice is calling,
“Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
“Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Is 40:3-5)
For me, this is the ultimate synopsis of what should happen in every soul during Lent. We begin the season by going into the wilderness and clearing away all the rubble that separates us from God. Then we make the way smooth by opening our hearts to conversion and spiritual growth. Once all that has been done, God’s glory will be revealed, not only to us, but through us for others to see.
Image: Wikipedia.org, Roberdan http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=86186044&size=o