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We travel to the desert during Lent

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

Sunday, Feb. 17
First Sunday of Lent
Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Romans 10:8-13
Luke 4:1-13

When I was a youngster, the central focus of Lent was what we would give up. Should it be movies or candy-or both? I confess that this is a practice so ingrained that I still give up one of my favorite things.  Lent is different for Catholics today and many would wish it were not. The Gospel of the day sets the tone. We are asked to enter the desert with Jesus. It is an invitation to find what competes with God for our attention and to “give that up for Lent.”

The desert image is a good one. There are no hiding places in the desert. There is no shelter and in the midst of deprivation what is inside us comes to the surface. It was fitting then that Jesus would be led to the desert to pay attention only to God for those 40 days. It was only the beginning of a much longer journey which would end on the Cross.

There are times when we are led to the desert by an event—a great loss or a crisis. But this is a journey we choose to take.  It is a journey which we are asked to take with him. Our desert is different. In Lent, it is a time rather than a place. Perhaps it is a time for a retreat. Maybe it is a briefer time. In any case, like Jesus, we leave behind all the expectations of others and we do without. We deprive ourselves so that we can be deliberately and voluntarily powerless. The prayer, fasting and almsgiving that have always been central to our Lenten practice remind us of what it means to follow Jesus. But it doesn’t stop there.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus was at a crossroads. He had to decide how he was going to bring us to the Father. Would it be by power or by the gift of himself? This was his struggle in the desert. How he answered the question would affect the rest of his ministry.

In the deepest search for holiness, our temptations are not fleeting. They are not simply the choice between what is good and what is evil. Our deepest choices are about how we are going to spend our lives. Wealth, power and ambition are seductive. They are sometimes lifetime choices between what is good and what is better.

This is the First Sunday of the Lenten season. It is a time for us to think of all that the Lord has given us. Lent is not a desert experience of trial and temptation. It is a period enriched with the fruit of Jesus’ resurrection and made fertile by the gifts of the community.

At this Eucharist, we return the first fruits of what the Lord has given us. We bring him the community with all its faults and failings, with all its accomplishments and talents. We dedicate this community to the Lord with all the strength and vigor of those who gather to praise and to thank him.

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