I’ll begin with a challenging take on today’s gospel reading: that living into God’s vision for our life might call us into the desert. It might call us to live a life we don’t expect for ourselves, to utilize resources within ourselves we don’t know we have; to find our way through unfamiliar terrain - geographic, metaphorical, spiritual. The desert upends our world. But the good news is that God is there, with us, in all.
This past week we entered into Lent, a season of intentional desert traversing. I like to think of Lent as a skills building time. It’s a desert that is measurable and measured: we know when it begins and when it ends, we know the rules, we know to deepen our prayer, fast, and give. We do this in community. This doesn’t mean it’s not challenging, it is. But it’s a desert that invites us to build spiritual muscles, so that when life wallops us sideways, we can get back on our feet and see, even if it’s only in distant retrospect, that God softened our fall.
Lent invites us to trust in God, fully.
When I tell the story of my faith journey, I often note the moments of desolation and how they were transformative for me. I was a teenager when the Boston sex scandal came to light and it broke my heart. I couldn’t call myself Catholic anymore. I couldn’t imagine being part of a Church that had hurt so many people. My relationship with Catholicism disintegrated and what I thought was Church was upended.
My faith life was rekindled nearly a decade later, when I started working at a Catholic elementary school after college. I wouldn’t have called myself Catholic at the time and I started this role at the school thinking it was just a job. But during my time there I saw an orientation towards justice that was rooted in faith and love. This inspired me. I slowly started exploring my own faith and met others who grappled with religion, who felt hurt by Church, and who were navigating what it means to live a life of meaning and purpose today. In retrospect, I trust how God saw my pain and didn’t lift it, but walked with me through it over the course of some prime years of self-learning and growth, and kept my heart soft while witnessing the pains in the world and of our Church.
This is a spiritual muscle I think we all, as people of faith, are invited to develop: to see the pain in the world, and not to shy away from it, but engage it and address it. I see this with the young adults I get to work alongside as they organize their faith communities to address the climate crisis. They transmute their anxiety over our earth and their rage for insufficient action taken into a vision for our world that is more liberated, more capable of seeing pain and injustice and doing something about it. Lent offers us a unique moment to build these spiritual muscles so that we can live as God calls us to live: boldly and proclaiming good news, especially if doing so could upend the world we know.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is cast into the desert and begins his ministry. It’s not included in our reading but in the line just before the Spirit sends Jesus to the desert, a voice comes down from heaven saying “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” (NASB Mark 1:11). Could you imagine, Jesus, scarcely out of the waters of the Jordan having just been baptized, hears these words, receives this divine affirmation, and the next moment is in the desert? This is unsettling, upending. How do we make sense of this? If we are to glean insight from Jesus’ encounter there, entering the desert does not mean that we took a wrong turn or made a mistake. It doesn’t mean we’re being punished. Sometimes leading the life God affirms for us can mean taking us into the desert, a place that is unfamiliar and world-turning. And as we look at Jesus’ life and consider what it means for our own, I believe there’s an invitation for us to live a life that is bold and courageous, knowing very well that it will lead us into unsettled terrain.
It is only after his time in the desert that Jesus can begin his ministry. John is imprisoned by Herod, after having spoken truth to power and questioning the status quo of Herod’s rule. It is a dangerous time. Jesus emerges from the desert and begins his ministry. And what is his ministry? Proclaiming the good news of God. What other news could he share? He has made his way out of the desert eager to let others know that God is good and God is through us in all. His ministry is world-turning, painfully attuned to injustice, and faithful.
As we enter into Lent, may we remember that we are beloved by God. May our hearts be softened to the injustices in the world. May we hear God’s call to us to live boldly and courageously, even if this means we find our lives unsettled. And may we leave this time trusting in God, fully.
Diana serves as the Program Manager, Young Adult Mobilization at Catholic Climate Covenant. She earned a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School and a Bachelor of Arts in Romance Languages and Literature from Harvard. Prior, Diana served as a Project Manager for the Dominican Charism Initiative, where she developed award-winning faith formation materials for the online educational platform of www.opcharism.org rooted in the history and spirituality of the Dominican Order. Previously, she served as theologian-in-residence for the Nuns and Nones Land Justice Project, convening Catholic Sisters and millennial “nones” in conversations on land transitions rooted in ecological and racial healing.
The second of three volumes from the Catholic Women Preach project of FutureChurch offers homilies for each Sunday and holy days of the liturgical year by Catholic women from around the world. The first volume for Cycle A received awards for best book on Liturgy from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Media Association.
“Catholic Women Preach is one of the more inspiring collection of homilies available today. Based on the deep spirituality and insights of the various women authors, the homilies are solidly based on the scriptures and offer refreshing and engaging insights for homilists and listeners. The feminine perspective has long been absent in the preached word, and its inclusion in this work offers a long overdue and pastorally necessary resource for the liturgical life of the Church.” - Catholic Media Association
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