Into The Wilderness

It’s always a bit jarring how abruptly Lent arrives. It’s even more so when life or circumstances or even our environment does not match the arrival of this holy season of penitence.

As the weather begins to moderate from the bitter cold of winter into the spring (whatever way that seasonal change might be described in a given year, who could say?), suddenly the Church bids us reflect on our sinfulness. We are called, then, to wrestle with the reality of our souls’ predicament.

The readings of this first Sunday of Lent — specifically this year, in which we celebrate the “A” cycle of readings — perhaps should shock us with the very frank setting forth of the shape we’re in. Even more shocking should be the scope of the gift God offers us.

One of Fr. Steven’s most oft repeated phrases at funeral homilies is “the difference Jesus makes.” Most times, he uses this to refer to the different character our sorrow can have since we have faith and the very hope that Jesus’s own sorrow and suffering brings to us. There is a truly great difference between our standing before God without Christ and that with Christ.

In fact, these readings spell out by increment the story of our souls.

In the first reading, we are created in the image and likeness of God our Creator, with the freedom, will, and capacity to determine our course in life—along with the guidance God offers to a life of fulfillment, peace, and contentment. Inevitably, we choose a course that leads us to a place of spiritual ruin. Falling from that guidance God gives, we sin and break communion with his grace and bring upon ourselves the spiritual poverty, hunger, and brokenness we see all around ourselves.

The Psalm demonstrates the first steps we can take in reconciling with God. We should cry out to God with sorrow for our sins, and begging to be forgiven, healed, cleansed, and brought back into that intimate fellowship with God and the Church. We ought to acknowledge our weakness and the loss of joy we experience, by wounding that relationship with God.

The epistle then describes the Father’s remedy for our brokenness in terms that are in contrast with the illness in our nature. Where in Adam all are bound to death, in Christ all have access to acquittal and life. Truly, “the gift is not like the transgression. . . the gift is not like the result of the one who sinned (Romans 5:15a, 18b).”

In the Gospel, we are given not merely an account of the experience of temptation that we indeed share in common with Christ Jesus, but a roadmap through temptation to peace, contentment, joy, and strength, all bound in communion with Jesus. Every temptation we sidestep, every opportunity to sin we avoid or escape, keeps us near on the heels of he who is the Lover of Our Souls.

Each Lent, we are called to follow the very footprints of Jesus into the desert of self-denial, eschewing the comforts we have gathered to ourselves, preferring the lure of the heavenly reward.

Herein lies the rub, however: are these sacrifices an act of love, or just adherence to a tradition? Do we participate in “the Great Fast” willingly, or is it something we feel forced to do?

Now, the Church does compel us to the fast; she pushes us to the pursuit. But is that compulsion something that resonates within you? Does that sense of duty feel “right and just,” as if it were uncovering a desire of your own that had lain hidden?

I would urge you—implore you—to seek out that place in your heart. Find, in the quiet of this desert, that treasure that surpasses any earthly bauble, that friendship whose love and intimacy excels all others. Step into the wilderness apart from the comforts of the world, and join in the pursuit of your heart’s first love, your true joy, and the Gift of God: Christ the Lord.

David Dunst
Director of Music and Liturgy

 

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