The Beauty of the Desert

By Sister Mary Core, OSB

Every year during Lent we hear the story of Jesus being lead into the desert where he is tempted by the devil. But this year, as I reflected on the story I discovered something new (at least to me).

That is, I had always thought of the temptations as occurring while Jesus was praying and fasting in the desert. But this year, I noticed the Gospel doesn’t say that. Both Matthew and Luke say that “After the 40 days and nights of fasting, Jesus was hungry.”

Jesus is tempted after his desert experience, not during it!

In this light, perhaps the desert is more a place of being strengthened than a place of temptation.

We monastics must have known that all along. We speak of taking a “desert day” when we need time for spiritual nourishment.  We make an annual retreat “to step back,” and give ourselves time to enter into a time of quiet prayer and reflection to grow in our spiritual life.

Jesus needed to be strengthened through prayer and fasting, in order to go forth and begin his public ministry, and the temptations for Jesus to throw in the towel began immediately upon his leaving the desert.

Isn’t it true for us as well??  We make the retreat, we spend time in prayer, we take the desert day or the Cursillo, or C.E.W., or W.A.T.C.H., or maybe a visit with our spiritual director and we are renewed, recommitted and ready to be that “SUPER CHRISTIAN!”

Then we step back into the everyday, humdrum routine of our lives … and are immediately tempted to return to the petty, picky, intolerant, prideful, angry people we so often are.

When the temptations of revenge, anger, evil thoughts and actions raise their ugly head and lure us to “get even” or “make them pay” or “let them do it. I’ve done more than my share,”  it is then, that we struggle to be God’s obedient children.

If we can daily take with us the beauty of the desert (our ongoing, on-growing relationship with God), then, with God’s grace, we will be able to resist temptation.

So let us go into the desert with Jesus this Lent, to be strengthened by prayer and fasting. May we do almsgiving and good works.  May our greatest and most recurrent temptation be to look for and listen to the presence of God in our world, in each other and in ourselves. May these 40 days and nights prepare us to carry our crosses, to bear patiently our testings, and to overcome our other temptations.

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