Chaplain's Comments

Welcome to the Happy Season of Lent! On Ash Wednesday we were reminded that what's important is who we are before God, and not who we make ourselves out to be before other people. Some asked these questions, what are we doing at Church? What do we come for? Why didn't we stay at home to pray? What are we doing in receiving ashes on our forehead? Ash Wednesday is a day of home coming a day of re orienting and turning around our face to God who loves us. Today we turn to Easter, hence Happy Lent, but even now we are welcomed home into the loving arms of God. Every day in Lent we are invited to kneel down and place our hands in the dust and the ashes of our lives, when we do this, we hope to orient ourselves more and more in the direction of Christ.

The season of Lent offers us a bewildering array of Old Testament passages from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, 2 Kings, Esther, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jonah, Joel Micah, Hosea, and Wisdom. We ask the question, what is the rationale behind the selection and the distribution of these passages?

In the Lectionary for Mass, the Old Testament passages for the weekdays in Lent correspond to the Gospel text of the day. On this first Sunday of Lent, the beautiful rainbow that Noah sees at the end of the Great Flood in the book of Genesis is the covenant God declares not only to Noah but to all human beings. A sacred covenant that tells us of God' unconditional love for all creation is also our concern on the road to sustainability.

Have you ever noticed in the Gospel of Mark, that Jesus begins and ends his public ministry in the wilderness? These deserts are the geographical bookends of the greatest story ever told. In today's Gospel narrative, we have Jesus in the desert for forty days. Much later, when condemned to death, Jesus is led out of the city and crucified at Golgotha, another dry and desolate location. In both places Jesus is tempted. In Mark we are never told what Satan's temptations in the desert were about. Luke and Matthew fill in those details. On the cross, however, Mark tells us that the crowd tempts Jesus to work a miracle, come down from the cross and save himself. In the first desert Jesus is ministered to by the angels and emerges to proclaim that the kingdom of God is close at hand. In the later desert Jesus is ministered to by his women disciples and is put to death as a consequence for the way he lived out the Kingdom he proclaimed.

It's clear from all the Gospels that the desert and the temptations stayed with Jesus throughout his life. What a comfort this is to us. Many of us do not need to go out and find a physical desert to know its claim on our lives. Temptations do not know geographical limitations. Indeed, the greater the number of options, the more temptations we have to take a destructive path.

When we look at how the desert is used in the Bible, mythology, art, literature and the cinema two competing images emerge. The first is that the desert can be a place of loss and ruin where some great heroes have gone and not returned. In another equally venerable tradition journeys to the desert, while filled with a mixture of pleasure and pain, are abundant with revelation, transformation and recreation.

These two descriptions do not have to be contradictory. As we find in Jesus' example, we do not have to give in to the temptation that the desert is only about loss, but we need to find a path there to negotiate a way out of it so that we can emerge recreated, the richer for the experience.

It's important to remember in our own particular deserts that temptation is not sin. To be tempted by something is not the same as doing it. Temptations are the allures that make destructive choices look good. In one sense, the bad news is that we know from the lives of the saints that the closer we get to God, the more temptations increase. The good news is that we can learn how to deal with them.

For example, the "Lunchtime Examen", from the blog of Ignatian Spirituality invites us to pause at noontime to review your day in the presence of God through 6 sessions. 1. Why is this good way to pray? 2. Where can I find God? 3. Who do I pray about? 4. What do our feelings have to do with prayers? 5. What does examen have to do with being honest with God? 6. What shall I do? Pop in to taste the origins of Jesuit spirituality and be inspired in some excellent ways to become Free. This awareness exercise is a way to resist temptations and live in God's action.

Finally, temptations have a context and a history. They can come when we are feeling most deserted and vulnerable and they normally strike us at the most susceptible points in our character. To deal with them we need to be aware of their pattern, the way they con us into believing that the destructive behaviour is 'not that bad', will be 'just this once', or 'for the last time'. As well, it helps if we are aware of the danger signs in our lives that can weaken our defences. Tiredness, boredom, anger, alcohol and drug use, lack of good communication and a poor self-esteem are common realities that can leave us more exposed than usual.

This Lent, we are once again invited to venture with Christ into our figurative deserts, let's do anything that helps our self-esteem, possibly with many healthy words - diet, fitness, exercise, weight loss thus dealing with our anger, attend to why we might work or drink too much, and ensure that we are less stressed. Whatever we might think, these activities could be the most helpful ways we can make sure we emerge from our desert the better for having been there. Celebrate your life, and make each day count this Lent!

Gaetan Pereira
College Chaplain