Reflection for the Vigil of the First Sunday of Lent 2014

March 8, 2014

by Mary Elizabeth Schweiger OSB

Water, River Jordon, sky opening, a dove, Baptism, a voice:  "This is my Beloved Son.  My favor rests on him."  Words that are quite a contrast to the Gospel we just heard of Jesus being tempted in the desert.  However, it is in this event that precedes the temptations that I feel was pivotal to Jesus in embracing what was to follow.  Jesus knew that he was loved by his Father.  This unconditional and overwhelming love focused and enabled him to be obedient to his Father’s will.

Jesus moves from this profound experience of Baptism to being led by the Spirit into the desert.  The desert in contrast to the River Jordon is dry and rocky, has very little vegetation, is hot during the day and cold at night and there is little food or drink. It is in the desert, that Jesus is tempted by the devil whose primary goal, it would appear, is to try to get Jesus to mistrust this love the Father has for him. It is after forty days of fasting and prayer that Jesus is tempted to embrace the three idols that are common to every culture and time:  possessions, prestige and power.  The devil works on the humanity of Jesus in trying to get him to question who he is, that is to doubt himself.  Satan leaves and Jesus in that moment took away the authority of Satan. In that barren desert, Jesus remained faithful, obedient to his Father's will. 

There is a parable about a mother camel and her baby who are talking and the baby camel asks, "Mom why have we got these huge three-toed feet?"
The mother replies, "To enable us trek across the soft sand of the desert without sinking."
"And why have we got these long, heavy eyelashes?"
"To keep the sand out of our eyes on the trips through the desert," replies the mother camel.
"And Mom, why have we got these big humps on our backs?"
The mother replies, "They are there to help us store fat for our long treks across the desert, so we can go without water for long periods."
"OK, I get it!" says the baby camel,"We have huge feet to stop us from sinking, long eyelashes to keep the sand from our eyes and humps to make it through the desert. Then, Mom, why the heck are we here in the Toronto zoo?"

Camels are made to live in the desert.  That is where they can be who God made them to be.  They are not meant to live in a zoo. During Lent we might find ourselves like camels living in a zoo rather than monastic's invited into a place where we can confront the evil in our life and discover our strengths and weaknesses.   Our desert might be the monastery, our work place, a physical illness, or a place in our heart.  Like Jesus, because of our Baptism we are well equipped with what we need.  Through our Baptism we know and experience the power of being loved by God.  

Like Jesus we are tempted. Monastic life is fertile ground for the devil to test us and where evil can take hold of us. We want an iPad, a smart phone, a rocker because the sister we live next to has these things. We complain about the food, waste time, murmur or gossip. These are the things that can lead us out of the desert and take us back to the zoo.

Saint Benedict gives us ways to stay in the desert. "Anticipate one another in honor; patiently endure one another’s infirmities, vie in paying obedience one to another and prefer nothing whatever to Christ." What great advice in helping us to meet our temptations head on and to keep our focus. With our eyes fixed on the Father as Jesus did, we too are able to meet our devils, overcome our temptations and know the joy of the angels waiting on us. We are at home in the desert because we are loved by our faithful God.  We can clearly hear God say of each one of us, "This is my beloved daughter."