This is my homily for the first Sunday of Lent 2010. Feel free to respond with comments. To view the readings, go to http://www.usccb.org/nab and click "February 21" in the calendar.
[01.] These are the temptations of Jesus in the desert.
Depending on our perspective, we might view the desert optimistically or pessimistically. We might -- as pessimists – remember that the desert there is little to drink. As the pessimist would say, the glass is hardly half full – probably empty – in the desert.
On the other hand, the optimist might see positive benefits in the desert wilderness. If you were trying to win a gold medal in the 1,500 meters or the mile, you would view the desert as the training ground par excellence.
You could test yourself, try yourself. You could endure the trials – and temperatures of the desert for 40 days or 40 weeks or 40 months so that you will be full, full of strength, improved lung capacity, and speed. The desert water glass might not be half full; but you will be full. This would the optimistic view.
The truth lies somewhere between these two viewpoints of optimism and pessimism.
[02.] Are we attracted the desert; or, are we repulsed by the desert?
Jesus himself enters the desert quite full, full of the Holy Spirit. He is filled with the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days.
He is full of God’s Spirit, full of enthusiasm. This is how the Lord begins his ministry, seemingly optimistic.
It’s a good place to start. This fullness – this satisfaction – may also be where we start certain things on ___ the first day of school; ___ the early years of our marriage or family; ___ the early years of retirement.
We might meditate on our fullness and satisfaction. On the other hand, sometimes, as we go through life, we find ourselves in the desert. We might end as pessimists.
Don’t end there. The truth is somewhere in between.
[03.] We might find ourselves running dry or scarce at times. In the desert, everything is scarce, water, food, other people.
And, during these 40 days, we are called to meditate on the ways we discover scarcity in our lives. Scarcity of __time, __companionship, __money, __comfort. Certainly, going to school full time, we are often running out of money if not also time.
[04.] Jesus goes into the desert to teach us about scarcity, teaching us also to turn to God alone when we might be tempted to someone else or to the selfish path, the wicked path that has only short term satisfaction, or immediate fullness.
“One does not live by bread alone” is not only a message about dieting and nutrition. It is also a message about all forms of physical satisfaction we might pursue.
This is where the truth lies.
The Lord does not only want us to be fulfilled physically but also emotionally. When things are scarce, we can be tempted to turn to the most immediate form of comfort.
The desert – the forty days – teaches us about the wisdom in waiting for greater and more lasting fulfillment. This applies to our relationships as young men and women; it applies also to our aspirations for work and success.
We do not live by bread alone; the scarcity of the desert commands us to have a plan for survival. And, Jesus also wants to give us a plan for survival and prosperity.
[05.] Jesus goes out to worship in the desert; to be united with God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the desert.
Jesus does not go out into the desert to be alone.
What can astonish us about competitive runners in the desert is that they can achieve so much without resources. They take no breaks; they have no teammates; they only run. Their individual perseverance gets them through.
If they were to give up the run, they would also give up their lives. In this regard, the competitive athlete goes out into the desert to be alone. Lent is not, however, a competition in solitude
Lent is, rather, a communion and a relationship with the Lord who is already in the desert.
[06.] A competitive spirit and drive may motivate us to go into the desert. We will escape for a while. However, we do not really go into the desert or on a retreat or to pray so as to escape.
We go to discover who we really are and who the Lord is calling us to be.
Does this calling come with some pain? Some sacrifice.
Yes, the Lord is calling all of us to renounce sins. In other words, the physical fasting (e.g., no meat on Fridays) is just a reminder that we are also called to turn back to him for things that will really satisfy. After all, one does not live by bread – or meat – alone.
[07.] A competitive spirit or drive will help us to see the desert as something positive.
But we are not in the desert to come up with our own personal survival plan. We are in the desert of Lent to beg the Lord’s help in all of our temptations, all of our sufferings, in all of our scarcity.
This is the benefit, the optimistic view, of an otherwise very punishing climate and difficult challenge. [__end__]