Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the liturgical time of Lent, forty days that prepare us for the celebration of Holy Easter, it is a time of particular commitment in our spiritual journey. The number forty occurs several times in the Bible. In particular, it recalls the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness: a long period of formation to become the people of God, but also a long period in which the temptation to be unfaithful to the covenant with the Lord was always present.
Forty were also the days of the Prophet Elijah’s journey to reach the Mount of God, Horeb; as well as the time that Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public life and where he was tempted by the devil. In this Catechesis I would like to dwell on this moment of earthly life of the Son of God, which we will read of in the Gospel this Sunday.
First of all, the desert where Jesus withdrew to is the place of silence, of poverty, where man is deprived of material support and is placed in front of the fundamental questions of life, where he is pushed to towards the essentials in life and for this very reason it becomes easier for him to find God. But the desert is also a place of death, because where there is no water there is no life, and it is a place of solitude where man feels temptation more intensely. Jesus goes into the desert, and there is tempted to leave the path indicated by God the Father to follow other easier and worldly paths (cf. Lk 4:1-13). So he takes on our temptations and carries our misery, to conquer evil and open up the path to God, the path of conversion.
February 13, 2013
Reflection - Well, let us leave aside the more personal reflections I’ve been doing on the blog since Monday, and return to what Pope Benedict himself clearly would like to be the focus of our attention now and always: not on him, but on the Lord Jesus.
We are on the great forty day hike through Lent and, depending on how seriously you take the austerities and call to fast in it, you may already be feeling the pinch a wee bit. You should, you know. While individual circumstances vary, and people’s health and energy needs dictate different levels of practice, we all should strive to be just a bit uncomfortable during Lent, just a bit hungry, or weak, or genuinely challenged on some front or other. The Church wisely leaves this to the individual conscience these days, but that means it’s up to us to make Lent a real journey into the desert.
Why go there, anyhow? Didn’t Jesus do all that for us? Why should we be hungry, why confront this place of death and solitude and temptation and poverty? It’s hard! It’s morbid! I get grumpy when I fast, or tired! I don’t want to!
Well, yes. That is indeed the case, at least for many people. I’m not actually using the metaphorical ‘I’ here, by the way. Who wants to fast? But it is precisely for that reason that we go into the desert.
We need to find out what we’re made of. We need to find out that, by the simple expedient of eliminating, say, eating between meals, or sweets, or caffeine, or taking second helpings, or all of the above, or… by a simple reduction of intake of food, we are all grumpy and weak and struggling. In other words, we experience our weakness, the depth of our needy condition, how insufficient we are in ourselves to practice virtue, to be kind and patient, how limited our own resources truly are.
By this most simple expedient of real fasting, of real discomfort of body and mind, we are thrown into the desert of the world where we cannot live. And in that, challenged to throw ourselves on the mercy of God more deeply. And in that throwing, to experience the mercy of God more fully. And in that experience, to enter the joy of Easter, of new life in Christ, more intensely.