CHRIST IN THE DESERT
On Saturday, I watched good friends carry a miniature white casket up the aisle of our parish church, to be laid before the altar for a funeral Mass. Their son was stillborn last week. Our parish had come to the church to pray for them as they laid their son’s body to rest.
My friends have entered the season of Lent in a profound way.
During Lent, we remember Jesus, fasting and praying in the Judean desert. We remember that Jesus was weak, and tired, and alone, and that, relying on the word of God, he overcame the empty promises of Satan.
Like Christ, my friends will likely feel weak, tired, and alone this Lent. C. S. Lewis said that grief feels much like fear, and I suspect they’ll sometimes feel afraid. He also said that grief is an amputation, and I suspect they’ll sometimes feel crippled.
And like Christ, my friends will face temptations. They may be tempted to turn on each other. They may be tempted to turn from God. They may be tempted to pretend they don’t need help—human or divine—when, in fact, they surely do. I suspect my friends will overcome those temptations, by grace. But if they don’t, I know they’ll seek God’s mercy, and I know he’ll give it freely.
During Lent, most of us offer up small sacrifices—pittances, really—to spend more time in prayer. We limit our comforts, just a little. We give alms, usually from our excess, and rarely from our need. And somehow God, in his mercy on us—his pity for our pitiful sacrifices—gives these tiny sacrifices meaning, and uses them to draw us closer to him.
Sometimes, though, we see Lent as a proof of our endurance, an annual test of our strength and resolve as believers. It is easy to think that during Lent, our little sacrifices take us out into the desert to be with Christ. We don’t readily see that Christ is the one who has come out into the desert, to be with us.
We often have trouble admitting that we are already in the desert, already weak and without food, and already tempted. Often we forget that Christ conquered temptation not for himself, but for us—so that we can rely on him to conquer Satan’s lies, which are whispered to us in the moments of great suffering, in the desert of this life.
Lent, at its best, is a discovery that Christ is already next to us. We silence our distractions to discover the Lord’s love, his steadfast presence, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
My friends have been driven into the desert of loss this Lent; I hope they will find that Christ is there with them. I hope that in their weakness, they will encounter the savior who can “sympathize with our weakness,” who “in every respect has been tempted as we are.”
Many of us are in deserts of loneliness, or mourning, or despair, or fear. We are thirsting for living water. I hope this Lent we will find the Christ who has come out to the desert to meet us.
J. D. Flynn is a canon lawyer in Lincoln, Nebraska.
What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.
It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind.
Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.
~Flannery O’Connor from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor
It is easy to lose faith: one bad outcome, one prayer seemingly unanswered, one loss leaving a gaping hole.
It can feel like God has up and left.
Much harder to sustain is faith that keeps an open mind in the darkness of the deep pit, in the midst of interminable waiting, or while facing the disappointment of lost hopes and dreams.
When belief is elusive, the worst possible reaction is…
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We are pots in His hands. See how gently He handles us.
In the first place, it’s not about what we do, but about what He does.
“In the relationship with God our first act of love, one that must remain the basis for every act of love for him, is this: to believe that he loves us, and to let ourselves be loved in our poverty, just as we are, quite apart from any merits or virtues we may possess.” (Fr. Jacques Philippe)
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
~T.S. Eliot from “Ash Wednesday”
My people, what have I done to you?
And so the light runs laughing from the town,
Pulling the sun with him along the roads
That shed their muddy rivers as he goads
Each blade of grass the ice had flattened down.
At every empty bush he stops to fling
Handfuls of birds with green and yellow throats;
While even the hens, uncertain of their notes,
Stir rusty vowels in attempts to sing.
He daubs the chestnut-tips with sudden reds
And throws an olive blush on naked hills
That hoped, somehow, to keep themselves in white.
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