A Homily for the First Sunday of Lent
Sunday, February 18, 2024
Holy Ghost Church – 5:00 Mass
Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

Audio Recording

 

Each year, the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent recounts Jesus being led into the desert. As we enter this graced season, we might ask: why does the Church begin this special time of seeking God and preparing for the greatest of Christian feasts, the Feast of Christ’s Resurrection, with an account of Christ’s temptation in the desert?

First, let’s remember the context here. Just before spending 40 days in the desert, Jesus was baptized by John. His baptism reveals reveals him as the beloved Son of the Father in whom he is well pleased. It also inaugurates his saving mission, his public ministry. Then what happens? 

Immediately, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert, or as Mark’s Gospel puts it, the Spirit DRIVES Jesus into the desert. Jesus does not just happen to find himself in the desert. He is there by the explicit will of the Father and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is the Father’s will that His only begotten son endure 40 days of temptation prior to embarking on his three year public ministry which ends in his passion, crucifixion and resurrection.

We might find this perplexing. In the Scriptures the desert is a place of danger, of hunger and thirst, scorpions and venomous snakes, and an inhospitable climate. Symbolically it is the opposite of the Garden of Eden. It is a place where humans do not want to go and cannot long survive. It is a place of struggle and ultimately of death.

Why would the Holy Spirit drive the divine Son into a place of darkness and danger? This might lead us to ask questions such as: Why would God, the source of all life, drive anyone into the desert? Why did he lead the Israelites into the desert after freeing them from slavery? 

Why did he send Elijah and John the Baptist into the desert? And to bring the matter closer to home, why does the Holy Spirit lead us into the desert? 

God constantly promises good things to those who follow him. Jesus once said: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”. Yet often we find that we are in a desert that seemingly cannot support life. Even more difficult for us to understand, is that it often appears that we have been led by God into the desert experiences of our life, maybe DRIVEN there. Why? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does this good God allow us to experience temptation, pain and suffering?

Jesus’s temptation in the desert brings us face to face with a mysterious truth: that the desert is an essential ingredient in the life of grace. It’s a privileged place of God’s work within us. It’s in the desert experiences of our lives that we draw closer to God, where we learn to trust God. 

No one can avoid the desert experiences of life, and to the degree that they are seen correctly, no one should want to avoid them. However, when we have these experiences we have a CHOICE as to how we react to them. We can either become bitter or we can become better. Do we become angry with God, cursing him for allowing us to suffer, or do we allow our suffering to draw us closer to Christ, who himself experienced greater suffering than any of us will ever experience? It’s our choice.

Our desert experiences come in many different forms, don’t they? There are deserts into which we willingly go, like the coming Forty Days. But there are many deserts we don’t choose for ourselves and into which we find ourselves driven. 

There are deserts of dryness in prayer; deserts of loneliness, of broken or strained relationships; deserts of physical sickness and suffering, of emotional or mental anguish, of grief for the loss of loved ones or for harm done to them. 

There are deserts of financial strain; deserts of sorrow for our sins; deserts of false accusation and misunderstanding; deserts of longing for heaven and of impatience with passing things. None of these sufferings are good in themselves; no one loves the desert for its barrenness. 

We endure the desert, and sometimes by God’s grace we even come to embrace it, because we know that it has been allowed by our Father in order to purify us, to humble us and to depend more and more on his grace. God has promised marvelous things to us. But there is only one road to that land of promise, and it runs straight through the desert. Only by willingly traveling through the desert can we be prepared for the life God wants to give us. 

Jesus has shown us the path to salvation and it is the cross, the desert. We must endure and offer our sufferings to Him so as to be brought closer to God and increasingly more aware of the fact that this short life on earth is simply a journey to our eternal home in heaven. 

This Lent let us go willingly into our desert of forty days, knowing that Christ has gone before us and is walking this road with us. Let this season be a reminder and a sign for us that all those other deserts, all the ones we haven’t willingly chosen, will be used by our loving Father to purify and strengthen us for the mission he has given us, to draw us closer to him and to straighten our path into the fullness of life he desires for us.

Let us take comfort, then, in the words of Saint Paul found in 2 Corinthians, one of the deep mysteries of our faith. I quote ”For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”.  

God bless you.