‘Enter into the desert with Jesus’

My dear friends in Christ,

This first weekend in Lent always invites us into the desert with Jesus to witness the temptations He experiences during His 40 days of fasting and prayer. While each of the three presentations of this event differ in some respects, the consistent place of the temptations is the desert. Because of the centrality of the location, I thought it would be good to think about the desert just a bit.

In order to appreciate the importance of the desert in this weekend’s Gospel we need to recall the roles the desert played in the life of the people of Israel. What likely comes to mind is the 40 years spent in the desert by the Israelites as they were prepared by God to enter the Promised Land.

Led by Moses and Aaron, God’s chosen people experienced the desert as a place of learning to trust and rely upon God alone for their safety, sustenance, and lives. If we study the story of the Exodus and the years that followed, we quickly learn that the 40 years were not always easy. In fact, we see time and time again that the people would forget the lessons they had been taught. Rather than trusting in God, they turned to idols and longed to return to Egypt where, though enslaved, they had “more than enough food to eat.”

God had to use the desert to help them leave behind their old way of living and teach them to turn to Him for their lives. They had to learn that enslavement in Egypt prevented them from becoming who God wanted them to be, and it was in the wilds of the desert that they were taught to turn to the Lord in all things. The people experienced hunger, thirst, and danger in the barrens of the desert, but they also experienced the mercy and compassion of God. The desert became for Israel not a place of isolation and punishment but a place of community and communion with God.

Because of this, other Old Testament books harken back to the image of the desert as a way of reminding the people of what God had done for them and how He wanted them to return to Him with all their hearts, souls, and strength. The barrenness of the desert purified hearts and souls for communion with God.

We are invited into the desert with Jesus this Lent so that we might learn to rely upon Him more and more. We are invited to leave behind sin and our own personal Egypt, those habits which cause a rupture of our communion with God. Our fasting, prayer, and alms giving encourages us to remember that, like the Israelites, we must rely upon God first who always takes care of His children.

Like the Israelites, we sometimes will fail in our efforts to rely upon God first, but the Lord does not abandon us but invites us back to the desert to learn once more to put our trust in Him.  While Lent may be 40 days long, the lesson of the desert is something we need to remember throughout the course of the entire year and our entire lives.

So, this week let’s accept her call to enter into the desert with Jesus. Let us ask Him to help us see what needs to be stripped away in our lives and what we need to leave behind in order to follow Him more closely. Let us ask Him to help us rely upon Him alone for our salvation and peace.

In Christ Jesus,

Msgr. John J. McDermott

Diocesan Administrator