By Sarah Christmyer
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts;
and the angels ministered to him. ~Mark 1:12-13
Let me get this straight:
The Holy Spirit descends like a dove on Jesus; God says he’s pleased with his Son; and “immediately” the Spirit drives Jesus into the desert.
“Immediately.” St. Mark wants us to notice: the Holy Spirit anoints Jesus and then straightaway takes him to be tempted by the devil. There’s no chance to bask in the Father’s recognition and love, no chance to glory, no chance even to prepare. Talk about being thrown into the deep end!
Don’t miss the purpose of spiritual “highs”
Sometimes I feel like that. Just when things are looking good, I find myself thrown into a desert, surrounded by dangers (like the wild beasts the Lord found himself among), tempted to panic or despair—to think God has abandoned me. But he has not. The Spirit who is with me in the high places is present in the lows, as well. And it might be that the high place was a preparation for the low, that experiencing the sweetness of his support even in the desert was the purpose from the start.
The Lord remains with us
This gospel reading is a good door into the season of Lent. It ushers us, right along with our Lord, into the heart of his mission. His ministry begins in the desert because he wants to meet us where we are: in our loneliness, confusion, temptation, and pain. He meets us there bringing with him God’s pleasure; the Holy Spirit; and ministering angels like those that met him. In his experience, we see the truth of ours. That we are not alone. That God prepares us and walks beside us, providing grace to overcome temptation and to fend off the “beasts” we face in life.
In Lent’s “desert,” find strength for the battle
I love what Pope Benedict said:
“Lent is like a long ‘retreat’ during which we can turn back into ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to defeat the temptations of the Evil One. It is a period of spiritual ‘combat’ which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our baptism.” —Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus message, 2/21/2010
Heavenly Father, as we enter another season of Lent, make us aware of your Spirit with us in the “desert” of our temptations to doubt you and your goodness. Minister to us in our loneliness and fear and strengthen us for spiritual combat. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Call to Action
Pope Benedict speaks of facing spiritual combat with “the arms of faith”: prayer, Scripture, and penance. What is one way you can strengthen your reliance on these weapons this week?
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