Lent 1 Sun Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville, KY
We began Advent with a common theme in mind. Do you remember? Say it with me: “If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat. So get ready! Because Jesus is coming. But don’t be afraid.” My Advent Angel gave me a miniature sailboat which is displayed in the rectory to remind me every day that if I’m not paying attention, I’ll miss the boat.
But – Lent – Lent is different. Lent is a time to bravely and intentionally get out of the boat – because: In Lent, we have to get into the desert, where we are transformed, find living water and begin to see, and are brought back to life. Can we try that together? In Lent we have to get into the desert, where we are transformed, find living water and begin to see, and are brought back to life. I have a feeling we might hear that once or twice again…
Yes – this is the time of year where we must get out of the boat and into the desert. That sounds fun, doesn’t it? Yeah right. Nothing about that sounds fun to me. Deserts are hot and dry places. There are snakes and scorpions in the desert. There’s no food or water in the desert. The desert is a place of dryness and death. Maybe that’s why we sometimes try to gloss over the desert of Lent and dress it up to be something different.
I’ve noticed this trend over the last decade. We focus on something else besides the desert during Lent. Let’s sing happy songs in a happy way, and fill our ears with as much lively music as possible to distract us from the stark silence of the desert. Let’s dress up our Churches as beautifully as they are during Easter, to add some color to the blandness of the desert. Sure – we’ll use a different color – but our worship spaces should be as beautiful and inviting during Lent as they are during Advent and Christmas! Because if they look and feel and sound like the desert, no one will want to come… Well, I get that. If you told me that to get to Easter I needed to walk through a desert – a real desert – I’d look for a path that seemed the most non-desert-like possible. But then – that begs the question: Why go through the desert at all?
That’s a very good question, actually. Why go through the desert at all? Why did Jesus go to the desert? No – really…why? And – why not bring some bread and water. I’m not the omniscient Son of God, all-knowing and all-seeing, but I think I’d be smart enough to bring some food and water if I was going into the desert. But Jesus didn’t… Why? Could it be because He knew we had to walk through the desert just like it is – dry, hungry, hot, difficult – that we have to walk through the desert to get to Paradise on the other side?
That’s what today’s readings are telling us, by the way. We all were meant to live in Paradise, but that got messed up by one person. So, one person (Jesus) fixed it for us so we could get back. But, in order to do that, He first had to walk through a desert – and if we trace the rest of the story we know that desert leads to certain death.
That’s why we have to go through the desert, isn’t it? That’s why we can’t miss the desert. Yes – things die in the desert…but only the things that are preventing us from living. In the desert there’s no time or energy or room for all the ‘extra’ that we surround ourselves with that hold us back from life; in the desert we drop all that to keep moving. What’s your ‘extra’ – hurt, resentment, sins that just won’t seem to go away? Computers, television, relationships? Lust, gluttony, pride? What’s your extra that you’ll have to drop in order to make it through the desert of death to the garden of life? In the desert, instead of clinging to our old selves – the selves we hold to so tightly today – instead of resisting change and sanctification and growth, in the desert we have no choice but to let go of what isn’t useful and let ourselves be transformed.
We don’t bring the pitiful water that only quenches for a moment into the desert…it won’t help us. That water that comes from the same old familiar wells that leave us thirsty: focusing on careers and the success of the world, the accolades and praise of others, or dreams of building such a powerful bank account that we’ll never have to rely on God for anything because we only need to rely on ourselves and what our money can buy. No, we go into the desert without that pitiful canteen so we can find the living water that can sustain us. In the desert where the sun is so bright and glaring, we have to ditch the false lenses we’ve let the world put on us that blind us. The lenses that say there is no such thing as objective truth, the lenses that suggest morality can ignore or re-interpret God’s Divine Law to fit my desires or circumstances. In the desert we have to abandon that, so that our sight can be restored, and we can find our way to the other side where we are restored to life.
Yes – the desert is a place of death and dryness and dying – but only a dying away of what is holding us back from real life! In this desert, in this Lent we find a path toward springtime, new life, eternal life – because what dies is sin, what dries up is our attachment to vice and our focus on this world. We strip our Church bare so we’re not distracted or pretending the desert isn’t empty – because in the emptiness we empty our hearts of all that keeps us from letting the desert dry up and destroy whatever in us isn’t from God. We sing less, and sing more somberly to repent, to change, to be different – and to let us hear and encounter Jesus here with us in the silence of the desert. We sacrifice our preference for beautiful and lively Mass parts, and willingly – yes, willingly, whether we like it or not – learn or re-learn the ancient solemn chant in the ancient language of the Church so we can travel more closely with all the saints and sinners who’ve gone through this desert before us…and we do this…why?
We do this, because it’s in the desert that we are transformed, find living water, begin to see, and are brought back to life. In the desert…
Just one last thought…
Part of our parish Lenten observance is the invitation for each and every one of us to come pray with Jesus here in the Church sometime during Lent. Preferably during Adoration on Fridays between the noon Mass to 5pm. I read something this week that was a powerful game-changer for me. “Jesus’ human nature longs for human consolation…” Think about that.
Sure – as completely God and completely Divine, Jesus has no need of our praise or presence. But – as fully human – He knows the need and longing for human consolation and companionship. We all know what it’s like to long for human relationship and human companionship. Last Wednesday, at the beginning of our Lent, Jesus entered the desert. He entered there for us – He entered the desert looking for us – and I believe He entered the desert longing for us. Imagine His longing…His desire…His sense of hunger and agony in waiting for us to find Him, join Him, be with Him in the desert. Won’t you be a part of our parish’s effort to “Console the Heart of Jesus” in the desert this Lent? We’ve prepared some guides to help you pray a Holy Hour if you’ve never done it before – all you have to bring is yourself, and a desire to be with Jesus in a special way.
Go ahead and sign up today. And – even if you can’t sign up – even if you can’t make it a whole hour – come visit Jesus this Lent in the Eucharist to be with Him in the desert while He’s in the desert for you and looking for you…