Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Still in Lake Charles, LA but on my way home today.
Lake Charles is just off of I-10 so I visited Father Don exactly a year ago on my way to that other kind of wilderness that I much prefer – the desert. I felt beckoned to the wilderness then too, but for a different reason. I was on my way to the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico to also make a retreat, to listen to the silence, to make a pilgrimage, applying my intense prayer for America, mile upon mile, out on I-10 and back on the old Route 66. Shivvy went with me and he sure enjoyed the journey. He was even a guest at the Grand Lodge on the very edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
My destination was the Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery thirteen miles out into a desert canyon on a potholed road near Abuquiu, NM. I don’t know how they built this magnificent southwest edifice out there. There are twenty monks who sing the full office every day. I was there for Palm Sunday and gained a new wonderful friend there, Mother Ben()dicta. She takes the “I” out of her email address as a reminder that “she must decrease.”
Being there was so awesome, so beautiful in its starkness, so expansive. My spirit soared from canyon wall to canyon wall. And again it was so silent.
I had a night of agony then. My soul felt tormented, much like Jesus in his forty- day desert experience.
So, let’s reflect on the important message of Jesus’ desert experience:
Matthew says: “At that time, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert
to be tempted by the devil.” If you have a moment, read the full text: (Matthew 4:1 – 11.)
Lent always has us enter the desert with Jesus.
I journey to the desert last year at this time to pray for the transformation of our country.
Personal renewal and transformation always begins in the desert
– the hard places of our lives, the crisis moments
— suffering, illness , worrying about losing one’s job or home.
In those vast and empty spaces of our soul,
we are confronted with the possibilities we have, the choices that lie ahead of us:
We can choose life or death – good or evil
– self-centered choices or choices that consider the good of others too.
Jesus went into the wilderness to prepare for his mission.
He spent the time in profound prayer and fasting.
In all the harshness of the desert and its many harsh and cacophonous voices,
he noticed a Soft Voice within.
He began to trust, to train himself to hear and heed every single word.
This was the soft voice of his Father in heaven.
Jesus’ life was a life in union with his Father.
He was obedient – even unto death, death on a Cross. (Philippiians 2: 1-11.)
To be obedient is simply to pay attention to. To listen.
We’re all obedient to something.
Many of us, unfortunately, are obedient to money.
We pay attention to how to get it. And what it can buy for us.
We obey the messages that prompt us to go out and buy the latest stuff.
Jesus chose from moment to moment to pay attention to what the Soft and gentle Voice
of his Father who loved him and whom he loved with all his heart. He responded to the guidance of that Voice because he knew that Voice saw the big picture while he was on the ground.
Jesus was fully human and had to shape and form his mind and will
just like the rest of us. As he grew, a young man about age 30, he discovered, the same way the rest of us do, that he had certain gifts and powers.
And like, the rest of us, he was tempted. God had given him – and us – a free will.
He was free to choose to use those gifts and powers for good or for ill.
And like, the rest of us, he was tempted.
Matthew reports three powerful temptations for this powerful man.
And note this: These were REAL temptations.
Jesus was free to choose.
1.) He could choose to become arrogant and obey only his own voice. He could choose to do it MY WAY, as so many of us try to do. But he chose to rely on “every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
2.) He could choose to get people to follow him by making a dramatic show of his
power, thereby twisting and distorting the powers God gave him. He could make his “gig” a traveling medicine show.
3.) He could choose to succumb to the temptation to take the power trip that many of us are on, including some priests and bishops. Like so many of those who get the taste of power he could “get off” on building his own kingdom. Instead he chose to be the servant of all.
This story tells us that Jesus was tempted to worship the d(evil).
To use his power for his own ends rather than his Father’s will.
And this is what he came to understand:
To understand that his Father’s will is to lift up and care
for every single one of his children on this planet.
Jesus saw himself as brother to all of the human family.
He is one of us and with us. He knows what it’s like to be human,
with all its difficulties and problems, even what it was like to have powerful temptations.
The desert experience did that for him. And through fasting, he learned to control his body / emotions / intellect / will (the four dimensions of the human person) so that he could carry that out.
In the desert, Jesus made his decision.
He chose very simply to be in union with the Father and to be led from moment to moment by God’s Holy Spirit. He chose – not to be successful, but to be faithful.
Faithful to the Father’s will — one day at a time — to the end. No matter what.
And what did the Father want for him?
Simply to let the world know that God loves each one of us with an everlasting love. That’s all.
To be faithful to Love, Jesus understood that the Father wanted him
to do nothing but love to the very end.
He chose even to love his enemies, even those of his own religion, the hypocrites who had him killed.
And the heart of his teaching is that we do the same.
To be a follower of Jesus begins at the Cross. To love our enemies.
To do good to those who persecute us.
To refuse to pass on even more hatred and violence.
To be at peace with all.
Know this: We will not be admitted to the kingdom of God;
that is, we will not experience peace until we are reconciled with every single person in our life.
That is a tall order. But that is what we must do if we are to call ourselves a follower of
And it can be done. That is why we need a time of repentance and transformation and renewal.
The time is at hand to enter the desert of our heart.
To purify and cleanse our own hearts and souls of hatred and violence of
tongue and heart toward our spouse, our children, our neighbor, our fellow employees,
for the sake of the cleansing and purification of our country.
Lord Jesus, help us understand the profound message of the desert.
Help us understand that hard times are opportunities for us to shape and form our life in the service of Love.
Help us understand that temptations are positive things:
They help shape our character.
O God of our understanding, help us to be persons of integrity, who are on the outside what we are on the inside.
Help us, like Jesus, to learn more and more to rely on You for guidance in our every decision.
Have mercy on us, O God.
Give us the grace and the will to change the corruption that pervades our land.
Help us to have the courage to face our own demons and to change within ourselves
whatever is necessary
May we stand in peace and joy and love in the knowledge that we have done our best to be in union with You throughout our life — the One who cares for and loves every person who has ever lived.
Give each of us in this time of repentance and transformation
the courage to look into ourselves to see and to change
whatever is not of love,
whatever is not of being honest and true to ourselves — no matter what the cost.
Character and integrity is the issue.
Life-long service to God and humanity is the issue.
For those the president or mayor of our town.
Or for you. Or me.
Now this is the Jesus I know and love.
priest / writer