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Father Muench Says...

Time in the desert with Jesus

March 1, 2023

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Lent – the Scripture readings at the Lenten Masses, each Sunday and each weekday, are the very same each year. Each year during Lent as I prepare for the celebration of a Mass, I meet these old friends. I have prayed over these same Scriptures every Lent. I have prepared homilies based on these same Scriptures every Lent, year after year. So, this year, as each year before, my challenge is to put new life into these same Scriptures.

So, let us begin with the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent. This begins to lead to put us into the Spirit of Lent. We read that Jesus is lead into the desert by the Holy Spirit to prepare for his public ministry. Our present-day Lent gives us a new invitation to join Jesus in the desert to find our path to sanctity and to build a new relationship with the Lord.

Each year our first challenge in Lent is to remember the reason for all this Lenten stuff – all the praying and fasting. The penances of Lent are not an end in themselves. Lent is not just about getting things done. These mortifications of Lent have a purpose – they must accomplish something.

The first challenge of Lent is for us to acknowledge that we are sinners. We have to deal with this. Changes must be made. As we enter into our Lenten Program, we are beginning a time of reform for a sinful way of life.

During the time of Lent, we undertake this time of prayer and penance to demonstrate to ourselves that we are capable of better things. As we accept the challenge of reforming our lives, we realize quickly that we cannot do so without the grace of God. This means taking a step in the right direction. We are seeking a new way of life.

Jesus often uses as an example for our spiritual life the pruning of a fruit tree. My gardening friends have helped me understand how this procedure of pruning is important in making a fruit tree more fruitful. Lent is a time for pruning – a spiritual pruning time. There is much that is useless and perhaps harmful in our lives, much that saps our energy, and diminishes our spiritual fruitfulness. What shall we prune from ourselves this Lent so that we may become more fruitful branches of Christ, the true Vine.

Lent provides us with a window of opportunity to consider ourselves to see how we can become better followers of Our Lord, Jesus. Each year we have this unique opportunity – in accepting the time of Lent again. This is the challenge – the lifelong challenge to be transformed by Our Savior, to be guided on our road to sanctity.

Jesus invites us to walk with him during his 40 days of testing in the desert. Our desert is our time of Lent. Jesus was left alone in that harsh and austere environment to wrestle with the temptation to seek an easy or comfortable course that would avoid pain and hardship, humiliation and rejection, suffering and death on the cross. In that desert, Jesus learned and accepted the will of the Father, even though it would lead him to the cross.

Lent – our time in the desert – leads us to an important time of transformation, a time to change, a time to discover the Father’s will for us. The world presents so many temptations to lead us to renounce our faith, temptations are that call that tries to get us to make choices that will lead us, little by little, away from what God expects of us. We have so much to learn from Our Lord, so much to prepare for.

Our Lord Jesus wants to bring us Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness and to be our guide us through our time of temptation and testing. The Lord fills our lives with his grace – to the humble who acknowledge their dependence on him. With the help of Our Savior, may you find peace and happiness through your time of Lent, your time in the desert with Jesus.

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