I remember the best Lent I ever had. That year, I noticed on the First Sunday of Lent a phrase in the story of Jesus’ temptation: “ … he remained in the desert” (Mark 1:13).
This phrase struck me because there were situations in my life at the time that were very desert-like, in the sense of feeling empty and desolate. So my Lent became a time of remaining with Jesus in that desert. Lent was not usually my favorite time of the liturgical year, but I was surprised to find myself “enjoying” this particular Lent because I felt so immersed in the season. Somehow, even though the difficult things in my life didn’t get any better, I felt less miserable about them because they helped me remain in the desert with Jesus. Actually, it began with me trying to remain with Jesus, but in the end I realized that He was remaining with me.
By the time the next Lent came around, the situations had changed and life was not so bleak. I almost felt disappointed! Of course, even though I didn’t have the external motivation of a desert in my life, I could still remain with Jesus in the desert.
It seems to me that there are three intersecting “deserts” for us to remain in: The first is Jesus’ desert where he was tempted for forty days, along with the “desert” of his passion and death. We “remain” in the desert with Jesus in our prayer and meditation, such as when we pray the Stations of the Cross or read the passion accounts in the Gospels. In this kind of prayer, time melts away, and we can be with Jesus in his agony in the garden, or as he carries the cross, not simply remembering a past event, but remaining with Jesus in his suffering.
The second is our own desert of whatever kinds of difficulties, illness, loneliness, or confusion we are facing in our life. We remain in this desert when we do not try to escape, but instead live through the sufferings by uniting them with the sufferings of Jesus.
And the third is the vast desert of the sufferings of the world—all the people who are living through untold difficulties, heartbreak, injustice, desperation, tragedy, and pain. It’s hard to remain in this desert for long. But we are called to do just that—by our prayer, solidarity, and whatever action we are called to do to help.
What deserts are you facing this Lent? Perhaps you will spend time in all of them. Wherever we remain, Jesus is there with us.
Sr Maria Grace Dateno