40 Days in the Desert
Lent should be a time spent walking our way back to Christ
Standing in front of the niche in the veteran’s cemetery as my mother’s ashes were placed next to Dad’s, I felt as if I was in the desert of Lent. I thought it was a strange image. It was only September. What does grief have to do with Lent?
Grief often is a state of feeling empty, alone and lost. God can seem very distant. Lent is a journey through a barren desert. It is easy to get lost. Grief also can involve introspection that centers on this question: Did I love enough? Lent is a time to take a long hard look at ourselves. It is a time to hold up a mirror to our souls. Do we love and serve God enough? Do we truly love our neighbor? Does love or sin rule our hearts?
An honest examination of our lives reveals, as St. Paul reminds us, that we all “have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
That is why the first Gospel on the first Sunday in Lent is always the account of Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the desert. Jesus understands our weakness in the face of temptation. “By the solemn 40 days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 540).
We are invited to journey through the barren desert to the hope of the Resurrection. Every Lent we drudge through the dusty, empty desert and resolve to turn back to the Lord. Turning back to the Lord — choosing his saving grace over the temptation of sin — is not an easy task. That is why in the season of Lent the Church invites us to pray more, to fast more and to give more.
We pray more to be in closer union with Jesus. This means we should cultivate the art of silence so that we can better hear the still voice of God in what too often can be a chaotic world.
The Church asks us to fast in order to remind us that the world and all its attractions cannot satisfy the human heart. Fasting from food always should be accompanied by prayer. Fasting without praying is called a diet. I have found that it is a good idea to fast from behaviors that distract us from God and lead us toward a temptation to sin. The hardest Lenten fast I ever did was to fast from sarcasm. Now that was hard!
Active charity is at the heart of the Gospel. All Christians have a primary vocation to love. We are called to love and to serve God, his Church and other people. In Lent we resolve to give more of our time, our treasure and our talents to build up his Kingdom on Earth.
A considerable challenge as we walk our journeys is too often we are so busy that we neglect our own souls. It is easy for deacons to get caught up in the ministry of being a deacon. The wives of deacons are not immune. I know that I have failed Lent too many times. But the truth is this: Conversion is hard. Listening for the still, small voice of God is hard. There is so much going on. There are so many things that need to get done and so little time. Then there is the scary part: God might lead me where I do not want to go. I will have to change. I will have to let God transform me. But my life is just so nice and comfortable right where I am. Change takes not only courage and discipline, but faith.
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Lent is time to leave the desert and continue our march toward our heavenly home — a journey that began on the day of our baptism. Baptism certainly is at the heart of the Lenten season. Our white baptismal garments have grown dusty; our relationship with God is broken by sin. It is time to convert our hearts and to ask God to “bring us back to you, O Lord, that we may return” (Lam 5:20).
Yes, God meets us in the desert no matter how dusty and dirty we are. But he doesn’t want to leave us there. He wants so much more for his children. We are not meant for this world; we are all aliens. We are all immigrants temporarily separated from our true home, the kingdom of God.
SUSAN KEHOE is co-director of RCIA at Christ the King Parish in Des Moines, Iowa, along with her husband, Deacon Larry Kehoe. She writes at adeaconswife.com.