“And at once the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert and he remained there for forty days and was put to the test by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels looked after him” (Mark 1:12-13).
The season of Lent is quickly approaching and these forty days leading up to Easter make up one of the most important times of the year for those who exercise good stewardship of their Catholic life of faith. It is more than just a time of giving up our favorite sweets or beverages; it is a time when we seek personal and communal renewal through our own experience so that we might welcome the risen Christ with joy on Easter Sunday.
Lent is inspired by those forty days Jesus spent in the desert prior to beginning his ministry. Interestingly, the Gospel of Mark reveals to us that immediately after John baptized him in the Jordan River, Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the desert to be tested by Satan. It was during this time of testing that Jesus’ resolve and identity were called into question by Satan himself. But when Jesus emerged from the desert he began to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples (see Mark 1:14-20).
Lent gives us the opportunity to be led into the desert as well, allowing us to remain there for forty days, and challenging us to be tested. The Gospel of Mark uses the word “test” in the sense of proving and purifying someone to determine readiness for the task at hand. The church provides some traditional guidelines for this Lenten testing: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
How we integrate these three guidelines is a personal decision. But let us remain mindful that the desert story of the Gospels is our story. Just as we followed Jesus into the waters of baptism, so must we follow him into the desert. The Gospel inspires us to believe that being tested in the desert is not something to shy away from, but rather to be embraced. Creating a desert experience for ourselves can lead to a profound renewal and restoration of our spiritual lives.
Let us take advantage of this Lenten season to embrace an experience and pray that we emerge from our personal desert prepared to proclaim the Gospel and become more devoted disciples of Christ Jesus.