Lent is forty days long (symbolically speaking) because we imitate Christ going into the desert at the start of his public ministry for forty days of prayer, fasting, and temptation. Every year we go into the desert with Our Lord. We can have the attitude of rolling our eyes and saying to ourselves, “here we go again.” Why do we have to remember these mysteries over and over again? We remember and relive this mysteries in order to go beyond spiritual monotony and attain spiritual profundity.
In today’s First Reading Moses tells the Israelites how to present the first fruits as gifts from God, remembering how long they wandered in the desert. We have only just started, and we have many fruits to present to Our Lord: five days of fresh Lenten effort. Maybe for some of us our stomach has started to grumble, like Jesus’ after forty days of fasting. Maybe we’re not feeling the pinch yet, so we need to keep making an effort. The grumbling stomachs will come at one point or another. Whenever the Israelites in the desert had a hard time, the first bad thing they wished for was to return to the fleshpots of Egypt. We give up sweets and our mind is on the ice cream parlor.
However, in today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that the word is near us. It’s not just a spoken word: it is the Word made flesh. Jesus is with us during our first days in the desert trying not to think of the dessert, and St. Paul reminds us we must have him on our lips and in our heart. All we have to do is call upon him and we will be saved from falling into temptation. It can seem that Jesus’s word is spiritually monotonous. Our stomachs grumble, we turn to him for an encouraging word, and he says the same things, over and over: Man shall not live by bread alone, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. We ask the Holy Spirit and it says go into into the desert for forty days. We turn to Mary for advice, and she just says, “Do whatever he tells you.” Arrrgh.
Congratulations, you are praying and fasting. The desert is dry. You look around and there’s lots of sand and sun, but no beach. Wild animals are looking at you wondering if you taste like chicken, but you’re following the Holy Spirit’s promptings, listening to Our Lord, asking Mary’s advice. Good job. The monotony reflects the fact that, for a part of you, this is not what you want, but the better part of you knows it is what you need. There is life in the desert. God led the Israelites around there for forty years (not days, years) so that he could spend quality time with them, away from the distractions, and away from the dangers. The Israelites weren’t just attached to those fleshpots in Egypt; the gods of Egypt had started to appeal to them as well.
So if you’re not feeling the grumbling yet, or the spiritual monotony is starting, it’s time to analyze the fleshpots for which the fallen part of you is longing, but do it with the Lord’s word in your lips and in your heart. Whatever stone you’d rather be bread, whatever empire of ego you’d like to sell out God for, whatever sign you expect him to show to prove himself to you, look at it through the lens of Jesus’ words. It will be like putting on your glasses to take in the panorama after just having a fuzzy view. Through his words you will go beyond the monotony and start attaining profundity. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to really help us use this time in the desert to go deeper.
Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4–10; Psalm 91:1–2, 10–15; Romans 10:8–13; Luke 4:1–13.