A Second Helping of Desert, Anyone?

This reflection is for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle B, 2/18/2018.

Today’s Gospel begins with St. Mark telling us that, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts…”

Is it just me or…I mean, what the heck was the Spirit thinking?! No sooner is Jesus baptized, whereby God says “Yep! That’s my boy! He makes me so proud!” (I’m paraphrasing there) than does He have the Spirit drive his beloved son right out into the desert to drink only water, be surrounded by wild beasts, and tempted by Satan for 40 days! Someone call CPS!

FYI: Just because you’re a child of God, doesn’t mean that you won’t be surrounded by beasts at times, go through struggles at times, and be tempted by Satan all the time! In fact, I will submit that it is precisely because you’re a beloved child of God that Satan takes a particular interest in you. Have you ever been doing everything right and hardship comes your way? Yep. That’s the way that sucker works! When (not if) this happens, you just keep doin’ right and spurn the devil at every turn!

But before we go there, why would the Spirit drive Jesus out to the desert anyway? And why for so long? The “desert” is always a place of difficulty, of struggle, and of testing. Difficult times not only test our resolve, but they also change us in very important ways.

Not unlike steel that is placed into the furnace, hammered, and folded, and hammered again, God uses the desert to prepare us, to mold us, and even to save us by drawing closer to him in our times of trial. God loves us too much, and needs us too much to leave us as just hunks of steel.

No, God wants to transform us into weapons of righteousness, bringing light and love, and truth and goodness wherever we go and to whomever we meet! Let us never run from the deserts nor from the wild beasts that live there. When beasts come into our life, know that you are entering the crucible. God has important training for you there.

Let me be clear though, God is in no way the cause of human suffering. The Church is quite clear on this point. God does allow it, however, and is able to bring immeasurable good from it. Below I’ve referenced the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Providence and the Scandal of Evil paragraphs 310 (physical evil) and 311 (moral evil). For the full context click here.

310 But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world “in a state of journeying” towards its ultimate perfection. In God’s plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.

311 Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it:

For almighty God. . ., because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself. ~St. Augustine

Jesus’ time in the desert from today’s Gospel illustrates all of the above perfectly. Jesus went into the desert a carpenter’s son beloved by God. He is tempted there, suffers there, remains faithful to God there, rejects Satan time and time again there, and ultimately, is consoled there, as the Gospel says, “and the angels ministered to him.”

God takes no joy in our suffering, but know this, he WILL use it to strengthen, prepare, and make us more effective witnesses of the power and greatness, love and mercy of God our Father.

Jesus returns from the desert after forty days, the king of Israel, the king of the universe and savior of the world–but it started with the desert.

Like Jesus, God has amazing plans for our earthly life. He knows our future and what it holds. He knows the trials that will inevitably come our way, and knows the kind of person it will take to get through them. And he knows also that you will come to the aid of others in their trial and pain, because you have been perfected through your own sorrows.

Let us never be afraid of, nor shy away from the discomforts life brings. Especially during this 40 days of Lent, pray that God transforms our weakness into strength, our strife into service, and our weeping into joy. And always be thankful for the angels He brings into your life–they bring a kind word, offer consolation, and help to mend our wounds. Thank you.

Lenten Blessings, Stephen

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

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