Lenten Reflection: 40 Days in the Desert

Today’s post comes from our favourite Jesuit brother Dan Leckman! 

We all have vivid memories of spiritual conversations or events that really marked us in our faith journey. Alright, alright, maybe we don’t all have those vivid memories, but I sure as shootin do!! One of them that stands out for me came in early 2007, when I was starting my application to enter the Jesuits. Back then, I spent a week with a community located in Montreal’s NDG area (in fact, right next to Concordia’s Loyola campus, a campus whose origins are very Ignatian. Concordia doesn’t have much to brag about, but its Jesuits roots should be one of things it does brag about!!–and if there are any Concordia students reading this…remember that I tease because I love!!). Most of the men I met in that community would have a profound impact on my life, showing me what it was to be a Jesuit, and making me feel right at home with this community. For some reason, what I remember most from that week with them was a conversation I had with a priest that left me a little uneasy.

It was a Sunday morning, and I was accompanying him to a local parish where he was filling in for the local priest. That morning, the gospel text he was ‘meditating’ on was from Matthew 4, the temptation of Christ in the desert. Though his reflections on the text to the congregation was pleasant and theologically sound, he shared rather different words with me on our way to the parish: “I hate commenting on this passage. It obviously is one that is fictional. It never happened the way Matthew described it. “

In theory, I have very minor objections to using this line of thinking when it comes to reading any Biblical text. If we read scripture with some degree of ‘resistance’ or questioning, this could help us not get bogged down in a literal reading of the Bible (which is not always the best way to read the Bible!). This line of thinking may also push us to do a little more research around certain scripture passages that are a little more complex (at least, I would hope that if a good theologian wants to say ‘this didn’t happen,’ they then will still do their best to try to explain what the significance of the passage is for us today!). Nevertheless, I do have one problem with this approach, especially with regard to this passage from Matthew 4: It’s dismissive of the core spiritual value behind the account. It’s as if we’re saying “oh, don’t waste your time praying with this text. It’s meaningless.” Yes, I get that many scholars to this day continue to debate whether this account is historical, a parable, or a myth, and that it may be easier for us to simply focus on the imageries of this event, rather than the historicity of it. However, I think it’s important we look at one basic truth around this event: Jesus went to the Desert alone for a period of 40 days. Why? The way I see it, the human aspect of his nature was very conscious of the weight his mission would carry. Consequently, in order to ‘prepare the way of the Lord,’ in order to prepare himself for work that would change the course of history, he wanted to cut himself off from the world. This way, there would be no distractions, and he would be able to live a perfect communion with his Father.

I think most Christians would have no issues around this aspect of the account (they may doubt that he really lasted 40 days without food or water, but this is just healthy doubt that we all must contend with at some point, and not a comment on the validity of the events!) It’s what comes after that confuses many of them and makes them more spiritually rigid. Did Satan really approach Jesus this way, and tempt him? Did he really ‘carry him’ to the top of a high mountain, or to the parapet of a synagogue?

Valid questions. Here’s my own question: Does it matter? He was tempted, and he stood his ground. His responses to sin and temptation become our own models of hope, as we confront the oppressiveness of our own personal sinfulness, and that of our society at large.

christ-in-the-wilderness-1898

Through this passage, we’re also reminded that during this Season of Lent, we need to journey to our literal, or metaphorical desert; whether it’s a spot of absolute silence close to your heart, or whether it’s a book, or scripture passage that will allow you to transcend the stress that you’re probably carrying on your shoulders, the objective is simple: Find that spot (a cottage in the woods, chapel, a sweet spot you have on Mount Royal) or go to that book or passage, and let your ‘desert experience’ take hold of you. Allow all your worries and concerns that take up all this space in your head be silenced, and above all, make room for a holy communion between yourself and the divine. Share this moment with Jesus, and if you find your mind wandering, hear the words that Jesus is telling you in that moment. Because after all, above all the things we do during lent, the most important thing we can do is to develop a closer relationship with Our Lord and Savior, to journey with him in his passion as he journeys with us every day.

Newman Catholic Students' Society Executive

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