Dear Parishioners,

On the first Sunday of every Lent, we find Jesus in the wilderness. He is in the desert without food, without shelter. He is tempted by Satan. We have three accounts in the gospels of Jesus’ temptation. The one in Mark, which we have just read, is the shortest—only two verses. But its brevity does not reduce its meaning.

I think the most important detail about this gospel is that if Jesus is in the desert, He did not choose to go there. Mark says that immediately after his baptism, the Spirit drove him out into the desert. Being in the wilderness was not a part of Jesus’ plan, but nevertheless, He found himself there in barrenness and isolation. This detail invites us to ask whether we can locate deserts in our own lives. Are there barren circumstances in which we find ourselves and into which we have not chosen to come?

Perhaps these barren places are caused by the financial situation in which many of us find ourselves: fearing for our jobs, dealing with reduced income, and worrying about our future. We didn’t choose this situation, but here we are, and there doesn’t seem all that much we can do about it. Perhaps there is a barren place in our life caused by sickness, either physical or emotional. We find ourselves coping with disease either in our own lives or in the lives of someone that we love. We didn’t choose to have this evil in our lives. But here it is, and we have to face it. Maybe we are dealing with a desert experience because of a failure in a relationship: a fiancé who rejected us, a marriage that came to an end, the loss of a friend. We didn’t choose that these relationships fall apart. But they have, and now we find ourselves in barrenness and loss.

The gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus, just like us, had to experience periods of barrenness and desolation in his life. The gospel also shows us how to deal with those deserts. In just a few words, it describes Jesus’ desert experience, “He was with the wild beasts, and angels ministered to him.” What are the deserts of our lives like? They are places in which we find both wild beasts and angels. Both of them are true.

The deserts of our life are populated by wild beasts. Beasts can bite. The evils of our lives are real. They are not illusions. They have teeth. It is a real loss when we find ourselves no longer available to afford the college that a son or daughter wants to attend, or when we have to rethink the viability of retirement. It is painful when someone rejects us in a relationship. There is justified fear when we have to deal with a sickness that will cause us to alter our life significantly and perhaps even bring it prematurely to an end. Our faith does not insure us that we will avoid suffering and pain. The beasts in our desert are real. It is understandable how they frighten us as they circle around us. There is no guarantee that they will not pounce upon us.

But if the beasts in our desert are real, so are the angels. If there is evil in our life, there are also blessings. In the darkest moments there are nevertheless rays of light. In our driest deserts there are moments of grace. And often that grace is more clearly seen when it comes to us in the desert. When we have to deal with financial concerns, they often provide us with an opportunity to recognize more deeply the importance of family. When we must cope with hardships, those hardships give us the opportunity to express love and sacrifice to one another in deeper ways. When some people reject us, it provides the opportunity of us appreciating more deeply the people who still stand with us. When we must depend upon others in our sickness, we can perhaps for the first time realize how deeply we are loved.

Deserts are dangerous places. That is why none of us choose to go there. But when we find ourselves in the wilderness, it is important that we accept the full truth of our circumstances. If there is fear and suffering and pain, there are also God’s blessings. We must both recognize those blessings and embrace them. It is only by accepting our blessings that we will survive.

After forty days Jesus came out of the desert. We believe that we too in time will be able to come out of the deserts of our lives. But as long as we have to remain in those waste places, it is important to recognize the complexity of our situation. There is not only evil, but also grace. There is not only fear, but also blessing. God is with us in the wilderness, and we must never forget that. Even as we cope with the fear of the wild beasts, we must not ignore the angels. We must find them and let them minister to us.

Fr. Monteleone

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