Have you ever noticed how quickly we take control of our lives when things are going well, but when a crisis arises we quickly and instinctively turn to God? It seems to be an all-too-human response.
Being lost in a desert for forty days with no way out would certainly qualify as a crisis. You would have to live without the normal conveniences of life: cars, grocery stores, air conditioning, or cell phones. You would have to ration your food and water so that you don’t run out. With all of that, as well as the unrelenting heat beating down on you every day, you’d be miserable. It would be hard not to turn to God and ask for help!
This is why the Church has a Lenten season. During Lent we take a step back from our day-to-day activities so that we can spend more time with Jesus. We also back away a bit from our comfort so that we will feel moved to seek God’s help.
Self-denial and deprivation are central to the season of Lent. Experience tells us that we don’t have much room for God when we are too busy or when we are feeling satisfied. And so denying ourselves helps us create the space we need for the Lord to come into our hearts a little more deeply.
Emptied and Exalted. Jesus “emptied himself” when he came to earth (Philippians 2:7). He emptied himself of his glory. He emptied himself of his comfort. He even emptied himself of his human life when he died on the cross. Because of Jesus’ humility and self-emptying, God rewarded him greatly. Jesus was exalted above everything because of the way he chose to live.
The same thing can happen to us as we empty ourselves in order to make room for Jesus. We’ll be drawn closer to him. We’ll be more joyful. We’ll be more lighthearted. As Jesus promised, “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
Of course, we are not talking about an actual forty-day trip into a desert. We are talking about making ourselves hungry for God over the next forty days. This may involve choosing to eat less food or watch less television. It may involve giving up our free time to serve the poor, prisoners, or the elderly.
Whatever you choose to do during your time in the desert, remember that Lent is not only about emptying ourselves. It’s also about filling our time with things that will draw us closer to God: prayer and Scripture reading, meditation and reflection, Mass and Confession, or anything else that opens us up to God’s grace.
More than one million people will be reading this Lenten issue of The Word Among Us. I’d like to ask all of us to go into the desert together by choosing the way of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Let’s put aside the comforts of the world and our own sense of self-reliance for the next forty days so that we can draw closer to God. I pray that the articles and meditations in this magazine will help you make the most of this special season.
May God bless you and your loved ones this Lent.