Reflection for First Sunday of Lent

Today’s Gospel tells not the mysterious way in which Jesus is sent by the Spirit into the desert. Jesus , a Galilean from a bushland of hills – lakes and plains famous for their fertility – is led into the enormous, endless Judean desert, an empty, pathless wasteland where he stays for forty days. What happened to Jesus in the desert?
        In the desert there is a struggle going on within Jesus. The temptations are real. And we, as followers of Jesus, cannot relate to Jesus’ desert experience. We are not strangers to confusion, to emptiness, to doubt or temptation. From the desert, out of struggle, a clarity emerges. Jesus returns to Galilee and proclaims God’s good news, ” this is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand. Reform your lives and believe in the good news.”
       Today is the First Sunday of Lent and the Church invites us to enter the desert to struggle with the darkness we find  within ourselves; to ask for the grace of conversion, the reformation of our lives. Conversation can mean many things to us, but it is always deepest, most authentic, most true to scripture when it is seen as God’s invitation to us. The Spirit sent Jesus into the desert. Conversion is the call to let God reveal our sinfulness to us and to respond to that experience. When God reveals our sinfulness to us, it never comes in the form of condemnation or shame; rather,it always comes as an invitation to mercy. It comes as God’s understanding of us, God’s forgiveness of us, and God’s acceptance and love of us as we are.
     The deepest conversion takes place when we experience that we are loved even as sinners, not confirmed in our sinfulness, but loved as we are. When we discover at the very core of our being how good God is, how deeply God loves us. Even in our sinfulness, we are moved to the deepest sorrow for our sins. We are moved to a change of heart and to growth and generosity – that is what conversion is all about.
         One of the major elements in the conversion process is our reaction to the gospel message. When we hear Jesus say, ” Reform your lives and believe in the Good news,” how do we feel? It does not matter what our reaction is, but what is important is that we are aware of it and that we are willing to share it with Jesus. As we talk to Jesus about our response, we may become aware of what we need from God and then be able to ask for what we need. This is the conversion process. It does not happen simply because we want it to happen. God has drawn us to it.
       We change through experience. As we look and listen to Jesus in the gospel, we com to experience Jesus differently. He becomes a giver, rather than a taskmaster, one who loves rather than one who burden, one who has merited our trust rather than suspicion and withdrawal. We come to experience ourselves differently. Our values shift. What we care about and the ways we care change. We begin to see people differently. We understand them better and accept them as they are because God accepts both them and us.
       Lent focuses on our need for salvation, our need to be saved. It is a particular opportunity to say”yes” to God’s gift of salvation. We do not save ourselves by our good works, our prayers and fasting, our good resolutions, even by our obedience to laws and norms. We accept God’s love for us and say “yes” again and again to God’s gift. And, almost imperceptively, we find ourselves doing good works, praying, fasting, and obeying not because we have to, but because we want to, and God responds to that desire. And this is the good news.
      God bless you all
      Fr. Dominic
      Your brother in Christ