Blessed John Paul II in one of his spiritual reflections for Lent “The Spirit Led Jesus Into The Desert” (Pondering the Word the Anawim Way, Feb 26, First Week of Lent, 2012) tells us that the desert experience should not be one of fear, of expectation of harassment and oppression, of trials and difficulties, of wondering and crying out to God “Why me? Where are you, God?” Rather we should look forward to the desert experience as a positive growth experience in growing closer to God.
Some translations say that Jesus stayed in the “wasteland”. The “wasteland” is a good description of our human nature, damaged by sin. Left to itself, human nature is like a barren place, without much life, where not much of anything can grow. It is a symbol of our hearts, made barren and lifeless by sin. We need to be able to identify the nature of our life’s wasteland in order to change it and transform ourselves into a fruitful field of holiness.
The Church has gifted us with the 40-day Lenten Season so that we may, in a small way, experience this desert experience and be more aware of its value in our life. John Paul II discusses seven aspects of the desert experience that will lead us to know the full value of the desert experience. Let us look at them and their relevance/application in our own personal life.
Firstly, the desert experience gives us a period of reflection, austerity and simplicity, a time and place to meet God. We can realize that the benefits of fasting and abstinence help us to further our goal of simplicity of life through fasting not only from things, but with the little sacrifices of self to reach out in love to those in need.
Secondly, the desert experience gives us strength of spirit to enable us to live in the midst of sinful people, to live in a place where temptations abound. Jesus was also tempted but defended Himself with the Word and prayer. So, too, should we depend on God’s Word in Scripture and in prayer to be able to step away from temptation and draw nearer to God.
Thirdly, we need to understand that an integral part of the desert experience is a spiritual struggle against the powers of the demon. As we struggle in faith, we become stronger. As Jesus overcame his struggles in the desert against Satan through the help of God’s Word and by prayer, so, too, we can overcome through the power of Jesus’ Name and the action of the Holy Spirit.
Fourthly, the desert experience is a way of linking ourselves with the people in history – people’s journeys in the Bible, experiences of the saints and martyrs, people of faith of yesterday and today. We are not alone in our struggles; if others were able to persevere in faith, why can’t we?
Fifth. The desert experience is a definitive interior preparation for our mission that the Lord has called us to do. This should be a time for us to cultivate a freer and more intimate contact with God to be able to have a clearer understanding of His purpose for our life.
Sixth. The desert experience calls us away from our everyday busy-ness and constant distractions to a place where we can be alone, silence ourselves, and prepare ourselves for a special experience/manifestation of God in our life. Moses, Elijah and Jesus, among others, were all called to the full value of the desert as a place where they had a special experience with God. We need a silent examen of our hearts, our thoughts, our actions, our feelings and emotions to be able to put proper order into our lives so that we can welcome Him in a fresh, new way to accompany us along the path of our life.
Seventh. By walking with Christ, the victorious Christ of the desert, we will discover that we too have a divine Comforter: the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who walks with us. As the Holy Spirit calls us into the desert, He remains beside us to strengthen us and lead us out of the desert. We need to be aware of His presence and open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives so that, trusting in His promises, we will emerge victorious and fulfilled from our desert experience, ready to face the glories of Easter and the challenges of the world.
1. What touched you the most from the above reading about Lent as a Desert Experience? Why?
2. Share about one of your desert experiences. How did it change you?
3. Which one or more of the above seven aspects have you personally experienced during one of your desert experiences? How did you feel about it at that time?
4. With the insights and learnings from this discussion, what will you do now to make your own Lenten experience a victorious desert experience?