Monday, February 23, 2015

Beginning Lent

During his 40 days in the wilderness among wild animals and angels, Jesus shows his solidarity with us by being the one who, par excellence, holds together these contrary realities“He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were serving him.” We notice that in Mark’s account, the two relationships coexist. Perhaps we have here an enigmatic summary of the human condition—we are simultaneously beastly and angelic, never just the one or the other, and so we experience (especially during Lent) a wavering inconstancy. With renewed spiritual determination at the beginning of Lent, we nevertheless soon find ourselves in a wilderness of temptation and weakness. This can be perplexing, even discouraging. But the Good News is that this is exactly where Christ meets us, in solidarity with our fallen humanity. Jesus himself was not immune from the inconstancy of human nature. He was with “wild beasts” and “angels.” He explored the dizzying weakness of human beings, experienced it in body and soul, not only in the desert after his Baptism, but right to the end of his life in Gethsemani and on the cross, in order to become a high priest who understands and empathizes and is capable of curing our inconstancy. As the Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “He was tempted in all things like us, but did not sin.” The condition was the same as ours, the struggle was similar; only the outcome was different.

Perhaps the unexpected grace for us this Lent is that we, too, will be driven by the Spirit with Jesus into the desert, and during these 40 days find ourselves with both “wild beasts” and “angels” for companions. It is a season of temptation, and this should not surprise us. Probably not dramatic temptations: true to his name, Satan will probably accuse us more than seduce us. (We all know that a little accusation goes a long way in undoing us.) But let us not lose heart in the struggle, which at times will shake us to our core. Rather, let us stay at the Lord’s side, who is ever at our side, and embrace with him our lives of weakness, and gratefully accept the bread of life that he alone provides. We can have confidence and do this, because it was precisely “clothed in our weakness” that Jesus went out to meet the temptations in the wilderness, the same temptations that also tear up our hearts and strive to seduce them with false promises. But because the power of God was to grow to its full point of development in his human weakness, Jesus opened a road by which each and every one of us can follow him through our own trials and inconstancy. From here on, every temptation and every human weakness will be accompanied not just by “wild beasts” and “angels” but by the power of Jesus. We will all fall flat on our faces along the way, but such moment now bears within itself the grace of the Lord Jesus. We have only to continue believing in him, as Anthony of the Desert tells us, calling on his name without ceasing, and allowing ourselves to be mysteriously formed and led by the gentleness of his Spirit.
Photograph by Brother Anthony Khan. Reflection by Father Dominic