The Desert of the Soul ~ Fr. Ken Nelan, Novice

9 March, 2014 – 1st Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19(20-21)
Matthew 4:1-11

We live a simple life of a simple love of a God who gives all good things.

Today we celebrate the first Sunday of Lent – a time of purification and introspection in preparation for not only our own renewal, but also that of the world around us. The sleep of winter is giving way to new life and we are again emerging from our cocoons and deep hibernation. It is during this time we often call out to our God to help us transition from old to new; from death to life – transformation in its truest sense.

Since the earliest moments in Church history we have prayed, fasted and given alms as a way of entering into the spirit of the Lenten season. It is no mistake that the Gospel text for Ash Wednesday every single year is Jesus’ advice on prayer, fasting and alms-giving (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18). During Lent that’s just what we do and we do it out of habit and because “we should”. But Lent is not just about helping others or about doing something because we must. It is about doing something which calls us to a higher form of renewal and healing.

Our first reading today reminds us not only that we owe our lives to the Creator, but that we are connected to everything around us in some way. “God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life…” We are formed from everything that surrounds us and as such deeply connected to one another and the world. But how often do we take time out of our busy schedules to recognize those/our connections? How often do we think about how my bad mood is going to affect those around me, or how my smile might impact the life of another person? How often do we pause to take notice that what we think, say and do affect the world around us? And so it was with Adam and Eve, what affected one affected them both and eventually the entire ecosystem of the Garden of Eden.

The Responsorial this week invites us into deep introspection. Yeah, it is easy to get caught up in the “Mea Culpa” and I’m a sinner, but even here we are invited to renewal and transformation: “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” We’re not beating ourselves up here folks – we’re giving up old ways and committing ourselves to greatness. We are overcoming and moving beyond our infirmity through healing. It is easy to be sorry, but another thing altogether to work on ourselves so we do not keep committing the same grievous behavior time after time. It’s great to be sorry, don’t get me wrong, but during Lent we should instead try to discover why we do what we do so that we can transform.

I have a problem with the second reading – no surprise there really as I’m not one for browbeating or bacon-strips type theology, but if you get beyond initial impression of the reading you can see there is again the concept of connectedness coming from Paul’s assertion that through the Christ we are given a gift of rebirth and renewal – “…just as a single offense brought condemnation to all men, a single righteous act brought all men acquittal and life.” Yes, we do sin, but through the Christ we are born again. We’re again talking transformation here folks. Through Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection we are reborn.

But… the Gospel today shows us we’re in for it deep. Man oh man, when we pray we attach strings and try to connive our way into grace. We spread the banquet before the God and BEG for an equitable exchange much like the “Tempter” did with our Christ in the desert. “Turn these stones into bread and we’ll have a feast.” But Jesus knew exactly what was going on. In a way, and I know it’s a bit of a stretch here; we are looking at a mirror of our lives when we read Matthew’s account of the Temptation in the Desert. During our moments of crisis we do exactly the same thing. “oh God… Just this one hangover God… If you get rid of this hangover I’ll do ANYTHING! I’ll even go back to Church!” “God, please, let me get out of this ticket and I promise to be good for the rest of my life.” “Oh My God, please don’t let my child die… I’ll do anything… Please God – take me instead.” The more serious the things about which we pray the more we seem willing to give up in exchange.

We are not devils and we don’t really tempt the Christ, but it can be easy to make deals in exchange for good things. Such prayers can become manipulative if there isn’t real substantive change behind the prayers. Remember the old saying, “God helps those who help themselves”? If we ask God to do all the work and don’t lift a finger ourselves, then are we really willing to commit to change or do we want God to do all the work for us?

When we pray, rather than asking favors in exchange for something else, let our Prayer reflect a thirst for the ability to overcome – “Dear Lord, help me discover why I do what I do, so that I don’t do it again.” “Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of life. Help me to renew and change the lives of others around me.” Our Christ gave us the greatest example of prayer – “Father, I love you and I feel Your love for me. I will strive to be like the angels and saints. I will work hard for what you give me and share with those around me. Please forgive me of any wrong doing. I will forgive those who wrong me too. Protect me. Amen+”

When we Fast, instead of giving up the usual sugar and candy we should give up those things which are not in our best interest: greed, anxiety, gossip, hate, and so on. Give up the negative things so that we may be filled with love.

And in Alms giving, let us remember that even a smile can change the world of those we encounter. Alms isn’t so much about giving to the poor as it is about changing the lives of others, and ourselves, for the better.

Lent – a time of purification and introspection, a desert time in our spirituality where we can either wither away and dry up, or transform through relieving of ourselves those things which no longer serve our greatest good.

R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

In the name of the +Father, the +Son, and the +Holy Spirit, Amen.

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