As the Hispanic/Latino Commission began planning for the Lenten Retreat that the Office of Cultural Diversity sponsors every year in Spanish, the first Gospel of the Lenten season, Mark 1:12-15 became the theme for the retreat this year. The theme is "Encounter in the Desert," with the sub themes being, "Following the Steps of Jesus" and "Driven to the Desert." How appropriate considering all that we have been through and continue to go through almost every day as reports of the abuse continue to come from around the the United States and throughout the World.
The Spanish translation in the Bible says, el Espíritu Santo empuja a Jesús al desierto, which is more like the Holy Spirit pushed Jesus to the desert. He didn't want to go, but the Holy Spirit pushed Him and he was tempted for 40 days. The Bible says he was among the wild beasts and the angels ministered to Him. We can almost understand what that feels like. Many of us feel betrayed by our very own leaders who we respect and love. Looking at everything that has happened this past year, it almost feels as though the Holy Spirit has pushed the Church into the desert. Now that we are here what do we do?
All the Catholics are being called to prayer and to listening with our hearts open to what the Holy Spirit is telling us. As a Church, is it possible that the Holy Spirit is opening our eyes to the temptations that some of our church leaders have given into? If this is the work of the Holy Spirit, what are we being called to do? We can just close our eyes and pretend it is not happening. We can just say, "Oh, that happened 30 years ago, it's not like that now. What's all the commotion?" We can just turn away from the Church or we can stand by our faith and love for the Church. Yes, we can do that and nothing else. Yet, I know that the Holy Spirit has the answer for all this, but with all the noise, we are not able to hear. The whole Church is suffering and feeling the pain of the victims. Our eyes have been opened so what do we do? The damage has been done and the pain still exists, the pain is real. How can we open our arms of love and compassion shown to us by Jesus and share it with them? How do we show them that we the Church are sorry for all they and their families are going through? How do we convey to the victims that there is a God that can heal all their pain?
Jesus who is God himself who came and became one of us took time and spent 40 days in the desert where He prayed and was guided by the Holy Spirit. He came to teach us and we are being asked this Lent to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We say yes to the desert we have been led to as Church, an invitation which we don't want but, we are here. It is not easy, there will be many temptations to be with one side or the other, to forgive or not to forgive, to listen with an open heart to the voice of the Holy Spirit or close our hearts. It is important that we reach out with love, the love that our Lord gave us.
This Lent I am challenging myself and I ask you to join me and say yes to the Holy Spirit push into the desert. When Jesus was pushed into the desert, God didn't leave him alone. Jesus had the angel ministering to Him. He will not leave us alone. There are plenty examples in the Bible of the persons being ministered to in the desert, to Moses and the Israelites he sent them food from heaven, Exodus 24, 12-18 and from the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19, 1-18, an angel appeared to him not once but twice and told him to eat, else the journey be too long for you.
The desert is a place where your past missteps and pain can be erased by the blowing of the wind. The Holy Spirit can guide us through this all but we have to be willing to go to that desert. Going into the desert will call us toward change of hearts, to conversion of hearts and toward the strength needed to continue along the journey. The Holy Spirit will bring us to see how to move forward. The Holy Spirit will bring us closer to Jesus. We can begin by setting up a prayer space in our home this Lent to step into the desert and open our hearts.