The Gospel readings of the first and last Sundays after Epiphany and the first Sunday in Lent have a common feature: the testimony of the Holy God that Jesus is "the Beloved" and that God is "well-pleased" with him. Surely that's a tip-off that this is something extremely important for us to notice; in fact, last Sunday's reading verbalizes the need to "listen to him!"
We enter the weeks of Lent not to do or to accomplish or to make ourselves become anything; not to “give up” cookies, or chocolate, or lattes, etc.; but something much deeper and more costly: to give up our self-fullness. A young friend in the Order of Julian, Sister Therese, OJN, sent me a wonderful little card a few years ago which reads, “Abandon all hope of fruition.” The only thing you and I are called to “do” during our desert journey these next few weeks is to get ourselves out of God’s way and to let God do what God wants to do. Carmelite Sister Ruth Burrows poses this question:
“...For what is the mystical life but God coming to do what we cannot do..?[It] is beyond our power, nothing
we can do can bring us to it, but God is longing to give it to us, to all of us, not to a select few...The prerequisite on our part is an acceptance of poverty, of need, of helplessness; the deep awareness that we need Jesus
our saviour...who is our holiness...”
One thing is sure, however: despite its rigors, the desert will reveal to us, if we allow it, how totally God loves us, how utterly favored, "beloved", we are by God. At the end of the desert journey there awaits the joy of renewed life, hope, and resurrection. But there is a cost. The anonymous monk quoted above gives us this advice: “...Humble and detached, go into the desert. For God, awaiting you there, you bring nothing worth having, except your entire availability...[God] is calling you to live on friendly terms with [God], to nothing else...You must be content to lose yourself entirely. If you secretly desire to be or to become ‘somebody’, you are doomed to failure. The desert is pitiless; it infallibly rejects all self-seekers...”
In the Prologue of his Rule for monks St. Benedict recommends that they willingly let the divine light into the desert country of their souls, “...and with startled ears” to “listen to what the divine voice is calling out every day...”: an echo of the desire of our hearts which Psalm 95 voices: “Oh that today we would hearken to your voice!”