The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.
Children cry when their toys are taken away from them. Teenagers cry (and get angry) when you take away their cell phones. Adults cry when you take away their home, and the elderly cry when you take away their car keys. Why doesn't Jesus cry when he loses everything?
Jesus remained in the desert for forty days. How could he have done that? We wonder only because we can’t even bear the thought of something like this ever happening to us! But the truth of the matter is simple: We wonder because we are weak, and we are weak because we are like babies that cry for anything and everything! Lent is training time for war!
Even for a day, the desert can be an extremely harsh place to stay. Now, imagine being there for forty days! Some people can do this type of training; for example, men who want to be Navy SEALS. But for most of us, we cannot do this because we are not willing to do it. What does it take to stay in the desert for so long? What does it take to remain faithful to God even while under distress? What does it take to speak the truth while seeing the sword? It takes love. A love that drives us to the point of near madness! The Lord is mad, madly in love with His people and with His Father. Nothing else matters. Lent is a time to get there!
The Lord, throughout his earthly life, was constantly challenged to prove who he is, but most of all, who he truly loves. Witnesses will not suffice. Claims will not suffice. Miracles will not do. What finally does his enemies in is his love for us and how love conquers all things. But for love to conquer, sacrifice must precede it.
By now it should be very clear to all of us that Christ received no special privileges for himself. Neither did his Apostles. Neither did their disciples. Neither will future followers, priests, bishops or Popes! And never will the Church. Like Christ, all those who follow will have to endure whatever Satan dishes out.
While I was a seminarian in northern Italy, we would on special occasions take hikes up very high mountains. These excursions were considered treats for the younger seminarians. For me, it was hell on earth! I not only feared heights but I also feared what could happen if something went wrong, especially in the winter time. We never brought with us extra supplies like clothing or food. None of us wore the right shoes. We never took any of the precautions that professional climbers take, and still, we were expected to go up to the very top of these mountains, some of which were close to 2,000 meters high! I worried about every possible thing. Well, I finally gathered the courage to tell my superior about my fears. He told me not to worry, that the next hike would not be so bad. I asked him where we would go. He turned and pointed at a range of mountains that were far away from us. He said, “That one.” I looked and could not figure out what mountain he was pointing to. So I said, “I don’t know which mountain you are pointing to.” He said, “It’s easy, it’s the only mountain that has snow on it!”
His words were like a knife in my back! And even his words are part of the training!
Now that I look back on it, I needed all this training, including his harsh words. But as good as the training was (and I hope still is), it still comes as a surprise to me how often one gets stabbed in the back, and how painful it feels!
What will get you through it all? Your love for God. You have to have more love for God than love for yourself or even for your neighbor. And that’s why the desert (and mountains) are ideal, for there is no one there except for you and God, and no reason to be there except to serve the Lord.
Let us pray to God that we take full advantage of these forty days. May each day be worth a year! It is much better to waste forty days in reflection than forty years looking back and crying.