Lent is forty days long 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 re-live these 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’ did 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 drifts to 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.
In today’s Gospel the Lord, just baptized in the Jordan, is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to battle temptation before beginning his public ministry. For Our Lord, the temptations began after a prolonged period of prayer and fasting. How many Lents have we lived? It can seem that Jesus’ words are 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 the Spirit says to go 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, a profounder life that puts your ordinary life into perspective.
A good Lenten resolution is to dedicate some time to contemplative prayer. Our Lord went into the desert, as he often went to be alone, to spend quality time with his Father. We too need quiet time, away from noise and distraction, in order to set aside interior noise and distraction and speak with Our Lord heart to heart. You can do some lectio divina, contemplating a passage of Sacred Scripture and asking Our Lord how to apply it to your life, or you can simply talk to him about how your life is going and how you’d like it to be. The most important element of contemplative prayer is not talking, but listening.
Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4–10; Psalm 91:1–2, 10–15; Romans 10:8–13; Luke 4:1–13. See also 1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle C.