1st Sunday of Lent; 21 February 2021; Bible Readings for Mass: I: Genesis 9: 8 -15; Responsorial: Psalm 25; II: I Peter 3: 18 -22; Gospel: Mark 1:12 -15
The Gospels share frequently how Jesus would withdraw from the multitudes, and even His followers, to go off alone, into the wild lands to pray and wait upon His Father. It is clear that our Lord had numerous gardens of prayer to find strength, guidance renewal and especially the holy. As our Gospel today shares this was evident very early on when Jesus was led, by the Holy Spirit, into the wilderness where He encountered forty days and nights of intense temptation and testing from Satan. As we begin this holy season of Lent it is important to recognize the Holy Spirit will lead us into our own wilderness times and places. Yes to be tempted (tested) but only when the wisdom of God knows we are ready to grow, to face the tests of life that we may grow in our realization, our discoveries of the holy. If we are truly to follow Jesus, as His disciples, we must understand we are not exempt from this sacred responsibility and privilege. It is in these wilderness places we will learn how to listen, the need for simplicity of faith, the awakening that follows what may be a dark night of the soul and that these holy places are places of the promises of God.
LISTENING in the WILDERNESS: One of the clear practices of Jesus in His prayer gardens, in His wilderness experiences, was that they were always times and places of listening for His Father. They were always times and places to hear and grow in the Word of God. It is very significant to note that dialogue occurring between Satan and Jesus during those forty days. Satan would come to Christ with a portion of Scripture and would challenge…“did God say???” Jesus would respond, with a fullness of Scripture: “IT IS WRITTEN…”. As it was with Jesus so it is with us. Satan will come and challenge our knowledge, our faith of God and of God’s Word. While we are ignorant of much of Scripture these challenges must not deter us from listening for the voice of God. If anything our tests, our temptations should be clear invitations from the Holy Spirit to study, draw close, LISTEN for God’s Word that brings peace, hope, mercy and freedom….that bring us Christ.
HOLY SIMPLICITY: It is as we listen for and heed the voice of Christ we discover that we are called to grow in holy simplicity. If we were to have the opportunity to take a winter wilderness trip into the Mojave desert we would have chances to see and discover great beauty and life. But if we were to make this trek on foot we would be careful to take only what was needed. When all we will need can only be carried on our back we quickly discover the need for and gift of…simplicity. All the other stuff of life may be nice but it quickly comes to be a burden to carry and maintain. Burdens that hinder us from experiencing the beauty, the joy of the holy. The Gospel teaches us that Christ has only one thing to be upon our backs…our cross shared with Him.
I remember one day while working in Armstrong State Reserve I was at the park entrance. A large, very luxurious motor home (yes they did have them then) had come and driven through the park. Upon stopping at the kiosk, before leaving, the driver asked: “Isn’t there anything to see or do in this place?” I knew they had just driven through without getting out. But I was still rather amazed they could not sense the immensity of beauty and life they had just driven past. Our faith in God, our relationship with Jesus is often challenged in the same way. We “follow” Jesus from the comfort of our spiritual vehicles maybe in air conditioned comfort and listening only to the sounds we enjoys. We allow so much stuff to get in our way between Jesus and our souls. Even this Lent there is a proliferation of APPS and programs to “help” us in our faith. Our minds, our eyes can become so focused on a screen instead of…on God…on each other..on God’s holy creation. Then we complain the faith is so boring.
Jesus, the prophets, the great saints all learned, early on the less we carried in our journey of life the more freedom we have to follow..to go..to be with God. Lent is a blessed time to seek the Holy Spirit to help us to take inventory of what is really important in our life. It is a holy time to clear our the clutter of body, soul and spirit that can come between us and God.
AWAKENING in the WILDERNESS. One of the great hidden joys of Lent is that it is meant to be a time of awakening. As we allow God to cleanse away the dust and detritus of our lives we discover, we awaken to perspectives, truths, hopes we never knew are outside our door. We awaken to the awesome beauty of holiness that is God. As the Presence, power and mercy of God dawns anew we see life in a whole new light. What may have seemed a wasteland of despair in someones life we now see as a place of hope for God and His mercy. What we feel as hopeless wounds in our world we see as holy ground where the Truth, not of politics or agendas, but of Christ can be shared. And we see our own self, not as defined by fear, doubts or ignorance of our own (or others) but our self as created by and for God. We awaken to the freedom of a daughter or son of God redeemed at the place of holiest ground, on an hill with a cross. And as we awaken in the wilderness of the holy we learn that these are times and places of promise.
WILDERNESS PROMISES…The people of Israel knew very well the dry emptiness of the desert wilderness. But they also had the promises of God, shared by the prophets, that even the wilderness will bloom. For all the faithful of God Lent brings us to listen, grow in simplicity, awaken and discover the holy sacred promises of God. Even for our Lord, it was in those forty days facing the enemy of our souls, He realized the power of the promises of His Father. The promises of God shared in Scripture might be researched in an intellectual exercise. They could be organized into an endless variety of categories. But they would only be so much words until the human soul decides to unlock them with the keys of faith offered by the Holy Spirit. And it will be learned that very often the greater the promise and the power it would share will also be found the greater the journey through the wilderness. Jesus grew intensely during His forty days in the awakening of the Truth He is the Messiah. The people of Israel both learned the promises of God AND His power as they trekked the wilderness for forty years. And Noah would never have seen and discovered the power and scope of the rainbow promise if he had not faithfully endured the stormy days in the ark.
As we make our lenten pilgrimage we will journey through the wilderness. and it is there we will discover times and places of holy power and grace. It is there we learn to “Repent and believe the Gospel for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”