My community in Christ, here we are again. It’s Lent. The 40 days and 40 nights where we are once again invited to look deeply inward and be steadfast in prayer, fast with intention and purpose, and give alms whether in time, goods, or acts of charity and work towards justice. In this time, we are invited to seek a conversion of heart in the areas of our lives where only God knows we need it the most, and to prepare ourselves to be as ready as we could be, to rejoice in the resurrection which awaits us on Easter Sunday. And how glorious that will be when that day arrives!
But, on this first Sunday of Lent, we find ourselves in the desert. We are not alone, rather, we are with God.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus was led by the Spirit to the desert, to be tempted - by the possibility of gaining power, having control, and obtaining true dominance over the kingdoms in all the world. And as hungry as he was, as much as Jesus was suffering, he did not give in to the temptation of the devil and kept his focus and intention on God. And further, on love - for each and every one of us. And, despite the suffering, it is always because of love.
In these past few months, in these past few years, perhaps you have been in the desert for a longer period of time than you would otherwise have anticipated. I remember back in 2020 and 2021 it didn’t even seem like Lent when the time had come, because it seemed that sorrowful undertones had remained in place for so long due to the pandemic and the impact of racism and the escalation of racial discrimination.
So many of us - our family members, friends, have been affected one way or another by trauma and loss from horrific violence, which have taken place in our schools, places we frequent, or places we never thought would be of concern. And isolation ensued.
The desert was real. And probably for some of us, it still is.
And, as countless communities of color continue to endure the lasting impact of injustice and oppression - systemically and interpersonally through the sin of racism - and as we process all that we encounter, we cry out, “God when will this end?”
The desert we find ourselves in this Lenten season may be barren with despair, sadness, and loneliness, or characterized by fractured and broken relationships, or loss of a different kind.
Still, this desert we journey to on this first Sunday of Lent, serves as a reminder of true suffering, where we are led to no other place than to turn to God, in hope, and cling on to whatever mustard seed of faith we have left. And, we have a choice, and freedom, to journey there, having faith that God is and will meet us there.
As we look to Jesus who was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, being hungry, being tempted, suffering, I trust, and I believe that we are reminded that Jesus got through it. He was motivated, by love. And Jesus knows, and we too, will get through whatever desert we are in. But first, we must go there. And maybe sometimes we will run there, like our sister Hagar, but we do not, and we will not go through this alone. I love learning about Hagar because even in her darkest moment, she was met by an angel who reminded her of a future that awaited her, when she couldn’t find hope beyond her past.
I am so grateful that the Gospel passage for this Sunday does not end with Jesus suffering in the desert. Rather, the passage ends with, “Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.” For me, this is the beauty of our faith. That we absolutely cannot exist without being in relationship with others, and angels are sent to aid with our healing.
And so I ask, Who are the angels that are surrounding you? Who are the people in your life who have ministered or are ministering to you now?
As I journey through the desert in this period of my life, the angels who have ministered to me lately, are my friends and family who tell me through their acts of kindness, their phone calls, their random text messages filled with love and hope: I see you. I am here for you - without judgment, without questioning. I am here - whatever you need. It is the coffee barista who struck up a conversation with me on a busy morning, a neighbor on the road who reminded me that random acts of kindness are not always random, a colleague who gave me reassurance that I was okay just as I showed up to work that day.
When we are in the desert, when we are hungry, not sure where to turn, we are sent angels in our lives who will come to our aid, if only we let them. And if we are open to the Spirit, and ready to receive those moments of grace.
Though at times it may seem easier to hide away and withdraw from others, no doubt that God sees you and desires to draw you in from the desert of where you may find yourself this Lenten season. There is no place God will not go to find us and reach us.
And the challenge is this - to enter the desert, knowing that we will encounter temptation, suffering, despair, and sadness, but we will have faith, knowing that Jesus already knows, and God is with us every step of the way. Even when it is dark, when we are famished and at a loss, God sees us - you and me - and always sends angels.
My community in Christ, I urge you to pray for a conversion of heart, to consider fasting from holding on to old perspectives and seek renewal in seeing things differently, perhaps to love people differently. And, to seek creative ways of giving to others. As we call out to God from the depths of our hearts this Lenten season, may God create a clean heart within each one of us, and together, may we build a world abundant with peace, healing, restoration and love.
Crystal Catalan currently serves as the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Presentation High School in San Jose, CA.
After working in sales and marketing in Los Angeles for a few years, Crystal served as a full-time missioner with the organization, Cabrini Mission Corps, the lay program of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (aka “Cabrini Sisters”). She had the opportunity to serve alongside the Sisters at Mother Cabrini High School in New York, Cabrini University in Pennsylvania, Cabrini Ministries in Swaziland, and within local ministries at the Diocese of Baguio City in the Philippines.
Crystal is a restorative justice practitioner, leading Bible studies, holding circles, and prayer services at the local correctional facility as a chaplain, for both the women’s and men’s units.
She has led numerous workshops and delivered talks for Confirmation and retreat programs, the Ignatian Solidarity Network, Catholic Mobilizing Network, youth and young adult ministries, and trainings in partnership with Catholic Relief Services. She has over 10 years of experience coordinating and leading immersion trips for youth and adults, and enjoys learning about new cultures and increasing our capacity for global solidarity.
When she is not watching a webinar focused on diversity, equity and inclusion topics or reading articles or books on how to provide spaces of belonging for all, she enjoys going on runs, practicing hot yoga, and singing karaoke.
Crystal holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of San Diego, an M.A. in International Development from Eastern University., M.A. in Pastoral Ministries with an emphasis in Restorative Justice and Chaplaincy at Santa Clara University, and the Certificate in Restorative Justice Leadership and Facilitation through the University of San Diego.