On this day the tradition of the church is that we always hear the gospel in which Christ goes into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights where he is tempted by Satan. The desert is about emptiness, forlornness, temptation and hunger and thirst. His only companions are the angels, wild beasts and Satan. After that experience of reaching right into the depths of human suffering he leaves almost on a cloud to proclaim joyfully, powerfully and full of love the good news to the people of Galilee.
There is a contrast between the desert and Galilee and between emptiness and abundance. Conversely there is also a deep connection explained by the season of Lent. The connection comes because we have to enter into the desert and pass through it to come to the joy of the good news. We have to embrace emptiness and abandonment and to strip ourselves of everything that belongs to the vanity of the world namely its allurements, seductions and blandishments; literally drink, the pleasures of the flesh and ambition. It is from this self-emptying that we can then be enraptured by the joy of heaven namely the joy of being with God forever. Lent is that time when we say categorically and completely yes to heaven, eternal bliss and the joy of baptism that the second reading speaks off. Lent is that time when we can avoid all that which takes us away from God and leaves us mortal.
On Saturday we celebrated the feast of Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta the children of Fatima. It was because of their experiences in which they had met the Mother of God that they were able unintentionally to attract 70,000 people on the 13th of October 1917. It was a wet, cold, rainy and dark day but suddenly the Sun appeared and for 10 minutes it danced, gyrated and revolved something never seen before or since. On the one hand the Sun was bursting in to the gloom and the darkness of the world or at a deeper level the glory of God was bursting into our world of forlornness, emptiness and pain.
There have been many times that I have found myself in the last 10 months being downbeat, complaining about the dreadfulness of the situation and politicians, bemoaning the virus and lock down. There are I suspect many who have also been part of this journey but when I stand back and ask honestly what this is about, I find myself having to acknowledging my own distemper and misreading of this time. Perhaps what it is truly about is that I am complaining about having the pleasures of life and all that I considered my natural right to be taken from me. Literally I can’t leave to go to the desert.
If you were to translate or parse this in another way what becomes clear is that Lent is like that sun bursting into the darkness of human existence. As someone said the 10 months of the pandemic has been like a preparation for the season of Lent. The work of Satan has been to play on the frailty of the human condition and to leave us in darkness and emptiness. This explains complaining, being downhearted and out of spirits. The reality of Lent is that we have offered to us the sun bursting into our world which is literally according to the gospel, the joy of hearing the good news, going to heaven and seeing the rainbow of the first reading. The rainbow was the promised land that Noah saw after the flood and it was and is salvation. These last 10 months have shown us what is wrong in our lives and in our world and we need to ask for the gifts of the holy spirit to understand that truth.
We have to strip ourselves so that we can be ministered to by the angels and enjoy the companionship of the wild beasts. They literally point away from the world and its vanity to the joy of Heaven and they help us to make that journey by making us dependent not on ourselves and material reality but upon God and those that he chooses to send to help us. As CS Lewis wrote why should we let ourselves be content to feast on mud pies when we can feast on the fruits and delicious meats of the eternal banquet. We need to have the discernment to understand the difference. When we acknowledge and embrace the truth of the vanity of the human condition then we can look forward to being transformed by and changed into Christ so that we may go to heaven. Christ walks with us into the desert, he joins us and then he wants to take us to Galilee where together we can live and proclaim the good news. In the season of Lent let us be ready to walk with him in that journey.