1st Peter 3:18-22
Come. Let’s take a walk in the desert together.
But a walk in the desert will be no easy trek for we must prepare ourselves for the perils that lie ahead. During our journey, we will need to strip ourselves bare of our pretentions, our sinfulness, our old self.
Welcome to the first full week of our Lenten journey.
Are you ready for the challenges we’ll encounter over the next 40-days in the desert?
In the desert there are wild beasts, unrelenting winds, a blazing sun, unbearable heat, sand in our eyes clouding our view, no water, and mirages around every corner. And the devil will be there tempting us.
A walk in the desert is a dangerous thing. But with spiritual preparation, hard work and understanding, the hike will bear much fruit in our growing relationship with God between now and Easter Sunday.
Archbishop Peter Sartain said something quite profound about our journey into the desert. If you haven’t picked up a copy of this Lenten booklet, they’re in the vestibule. Here’s what our Archbishop said:
“From a spiritual perspective, the wilderness is that place we enter to be reminded of the One who is truly essential in our lives, where we stand before God with no false veneer, makeup, cologne, designer labels, or pretense. It is that place where we confront the challenges of daily life not as insurmountable problems but as steppingstones to growth. It is that place where temptation seems to hover ominously over our heads in mirages of fakes and forgeries – but where mirages collapse in the light of God’s strength. It is that place where we confront ourselves with no other support than God.”
“That place where we confront OURSELVES with no other support than God.”
In other words, it’s time to take a look in the mirror and ask ourselves, where am I in my relationship with God?
I’m reminded of a popular movie, “Groundhog Day.” Perhaps you’ve seen it. It’s the story about a conceited, egotistical TV weatherman who’s stuck in the same day. No matter what he does he cannot escape Groundhog Day. The day just keeps repeating over and over again where he meets and talks to the same people over and over again until he’s forced to look in the mirror and start to change who he is. In the end, he escapes Groundhog Day by giving his life over to serving others, not himself, loving others, not himself.
I’ve always seen this movie as a metaphor for our relationship with God. No matter what we do in our lives, God calls us to self-improvement. God wants us to be better people than we are. Lent is the best time to work on this.
I read a beautiful reflection recently by a favorite faith writer Richard Rohr. He talks about the four stages of development in our covenant relationship with God.
He applies these stages to the development of the Israelites as the people of God in the Old Testament and the early Christians in the New Testament, but it could easily be adapted to us today.
He says God does not change; only our comprehension of God changes as we go through life.
Here are the four stages of development in our relationship with God as stated by Franciscan friar Fr. Richard Rohr:
”In the first stage, people start to experience the reality of God and God's love as more than abstract concepts. At the same time, however, they tend to believe that God's love is limited to just themselves, a select few such as a chosen people or the one true Church.
In the second stage, people begin to respond to God's love, but they perceive God's love as rather totally dependent on their ideal response. They believe that grace is a conditional gift, that God will love them if they are good, that God will save or reward them if they keep the commandments.
In the third stage, people begin to see God's love as unlimited and unconditional, but they do not see further than that. They acknowledge that God loves them whether they are good or bad, and that God is gracious to the just and the unjust alike. But they still think that God is doing that from afar, from up in heaven somewhere. They do not yet see themselves as inherently participating in the process. Frankly, they have not discovered their own soul yet.
Finally, in the fourth stage, they make the breakthrough to seeing that God's grace and love is present within them, through them, with them, and even as them! The mystery of the incarnation has come full circle. They can now enjoy God's temple within their own body, as Paul loves to teach, and can love themselves and others and God by the same one flow. It is all one stream of Love! They now fully realize that it is God who is doing the loving, and they surrender themselves to being channels and instruments of that Divine Flow into the world.”
What stage are you at in this present moment?
The journey this Lenten season is to continue to as Archbishop Sartain said, work our way on the “steppingstones to growth.” This will happen in how we respond to the events in our lives using Christ as our model.
As Fr. Rohr tells us, Christ is the model of the final and fourth stage of development. The other three represent the people of God and their development from the time of Adam and Eve until Christ came in their midst.
So how do we work our way up this ladder to God?
It won’t be easy.
As Richard Rohr reminds us, the people of God many times “come kicking and screaming and denying” the need to make this journey or take these “steppingstones.”
Our Catholic tradition encourages us to make this journey through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
PRAYER: Take at least 10-minutes a day to quietly pray to God the Father as Jesus did. Find a quiet place and just spend time in communion with our Lord, in peaceful contemplation. It might be on a park bench, or behind a closed door in your house, or at Church before the Blessed Sacrament.
FASTING: Deny yourself some pleasurable thing by giving it up, by fasting from it for the next 40-days. It might be a type of food or drink. Or an activity (some people give up Facebook). Maybe it’s a part of ourselves we are not pleased with and want to change. Whatever it is, use it as a focal point of your fasting.
ALMSGIVING: I’m a big believer in the CRS Rice Bowl campaign as a way of giving because the money helps the poorest of the poor around the world. The very people Pope Francis says our Church is built for. But there are many ways to give alms. Find your own way and then give with your whole heart. It doesn’t just have to be treasure, your time or your talents can be offered as alms to others in need, too.
So, are we ready for our walk in the desert?
Please know I’ll be praying we all have a safe and transformative journey.
I’ll be praying that we escape our Groundhog Day and bring our new selves before the Lord come Easter. Then together we will all rejoice!
- Richard Rohr’s “four stages” are adapted from Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament; pp. 110-112 (published by Franciscan Media)
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