Saints of God, the Lord be with you!
I always have said that if I couldn’t live near the beach, I’d like to live in the desert. I’ve been to the Franciscan Retreat Center in Scottsdale, Arizona and there is something about the topography, the cacti, the dryness and heat of the air that somehow feeds my soul. Of course, it helps that the retreat center offers rooms that are air conditioned, a beautiful church, a pool, and three plentiful meals a day. (Did I mention the pool?) In today’s Gospel according to Mark (1:12-15), Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, without the amenities mentioned above, where He is tempted by Satan. While this all seems a bit overwhelming and the outcome doubtful, the final scene in today’s Gospel is one of victory, “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming…”.
The season of Lent is given to us as an invitation to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us out of our physical and spiritual comfort zones that may hinder our ability to truly encounter and be changed by our loving God. Lent, in a sense, can become a desert if we allow for silence and spaciousness. When praying, let us turn away from always speaking, whether vocally or mentally, and let us sit in stillness, giving God the time to have the first and last word. Let us fast from feeding our wants and concentrate more on only buying what we truly need. Let us give to others our presence and when we can, give alms to help those who are truly poor.
In the Collect (the opening prayer), the presider praying for all of us says, “Grant, almighty God, through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.” What the Church is inviting us to in Lent is more than an intellectual understanding of Christ. Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (and the most perfect alms is not money, but the gifting of ourselves) we EXPERIENCE who Christ is for us. Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we become Christ for each other. We truly live out our identity given to us through the Holy Spirit at baptism; “Rejoice O Christian! For by your baptism, you are more than a Christian, you are Christ Himself!” (St. Augustine)
The wonderful news, Saints of God, is that through the many parish ministries which you participate in and support, your live your Christ identity in so many ways. Singing in the choir, lecturing, ushering, altar serving, giving to the Society of St. Vincent DePaul, being part of the Hands of Hope, being a catechist, or being kind and respectful to our homeless brothers and sisters are all ways you are experiencing the presence of Christ for yourselves, and being the presence of Christ to others. Let us continue to live as who our faith says we are during this time of Lent, and may our Lenten observances prepare us to more fully celebrate the joy of Easter.
– Fr. Steve Kluge, OFM