By Scott Haluck
The first week of Lent takes us from the Egyptian desert of oppression to the desert of Christ’s temptation. As we begin Lent, we place ourselves in deserts of prayer and sacrifice, striving to rise above our worst habits, routines, or instincts. With our Lenten experiments, we put ourselves face-to-face with our weakness for temptation for forty days. We hope to come out of this period more faithful to God and less attached to our sin. Kevin O’Brien, SJ sums up this goal in his description of Ignatian indifference in The Ignatian Adventure: “we want to be free enough from our disordered loves and fears to respond wholeheartedly to God’s call and choose whatever leads to God’s greater glory and the service of others.” (p. 176)
We intend to achieve the virtue of indifference through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving - the three guidelines for our Lenten diet. The Lenten diet is not necessarily about self-control; it is about encountering ourselves and our identity as God’s children more intentionally, discovering our deepest and truest selves by stripping away distractions.
The power of Lent is in living intentionally -- the more intentional the commitment, the more powerful the results. Jesus did not simply decide on a whim of spiritual pride to test Himself. He was filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit. He was aware of the Spirit to the point that He could decide to follow it -- you can’t get much more intentional than that. Also, He did not give up the pleasure of wine for forty days because that is not what stood in the way of a richer relationship with God. He gave up all food and water -- He put himself face-to-face with the limits of His humanity and in a position to rely entirely on God. In this condition, pushing the limits of physical and emotional strength, He knew and truly understood what it was to be human and, on the other hand, to hope only in God. And do you think He fasted from prayer during this time? No, it was probably the only thing that sustained him, returning over and over to that fact that he is God’s beloved Son. In our most difficult times, could we also find refuge in this prayer and rest in its truth?
When it is all over, having faced the worst the devil could manage for Him, Jesus comes out the other side stronger, more committed to His mission, loving both His humanity and His divinity more than when He started. He is free to go forth and accept God’s call -- knowing that success and glory are not up to Him but are in God’s hands:
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him.
There is hope in that surrender to God’s power. Can we accept that hope? Will that promise sustain us through our Lenten desert?
In our deserts, it is important to remember God did not protect Jesus from the suffering of this world -- that is part of the very nature of humanity. God treats us the same; we are loved and vulnerable. God promises to help us endure suffering, to stand beside us, to be with us. Like the Israelites in the First Reading from Deuteronomy, God will shower us with moments of favor and grace yet not stop the world from maltreating us. Although we will be suffering, we will not be lost or forgotten, God will hear our cry. We may wish for the suffering to end, for freedom from affliction, but that is not enough for God’s beloved -- God’s grace will not be limited by our worldly imaginations. God will stand beside us throughout the suffering and take us to a land of milk and honey. God will not stop the suffering, but, through the suffering, God will bring us to a place that exceeds our expectations. By suffering and sacrificing for our God, we are not simply returned to our former selves, but we are happier, more complete, and stronger in our love for ourselves and for God.
Pray so that you may more intensely feel God’s presence and love.
Fast so that you may more intentionally put your trust in God.
Give alms so that you may more freely share the graces God has showered upon you.
May your Lenten journey put you face-to-face with those disordered loves and fears that cloud the image of yourself as a beloved child of God. May the journey of Lent lead you to a place where you are more free from temptation and more committed to God’s call.