Lent provides time to find our true identity
By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB
First Sunday of Lent/Feb. 14
Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91:1-2,10-11,12-13,14-15; Romans 10:8-1; Luke 4:1-13
“Don’t tempt me!” Without thinking, these words pop out of the mouths of dieters who are offered a hot fudge sundae or someone who is trying to quit smoking when offered a cigarette. Temptation is at the heart of the human experience. What we do with it will eventually define our lives.
Luke is masterful in unfolding the experience of temptation that did end up defining Jesus’ life. Jesus is led into the desert “by the Spirit.” It is there he is confronted by evil.
The desert is a threshold place. There seems to be little there, at least by way of comforts. Because of that, the desert is a place where the scarcity of life demands focus. In the desert, one is forced to confront the essentials. This is what happened with Jesus.
It seems that this desert experience of 40 days and 40 nights was imperative for Jesus to look within and connect with the Father in prayer. It was a time of stripping away any illusions about what could be. It was a time to ever more deeply trust that the Father would carry him through the crisis of the temptations.
Jesus teaches us by example in this desert story the necessity of walking into the barren — the place where we don’t have any props to distract us. Having a “place” and a resolve to free ourselves of distractions give us the opportunity to remember — remember the true desire of our heart to define ourselves in God’s image rather than our own. If Jesus needed 40 days and 40 nights to strengthen his resolve to do the will of the Father, it is beyond question that we cannot come to understand and remember who we are without such an opportunity.
GOING INTO THE DESERT
I have come to understand the necessity of such reflection and discernment in working with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Dispensing information to the seekers falls short of allowing the process of formation through prayer and reflection to take root in their souls. It is critical to make space for God’s activity in order to form oneself into the person God calls us to be.
Lent provides this opportunity. The problem is, however, our timid walk into the desert. We have such good intentions, but life seems to get in the way. How is it possible to let go of the distractions for such a period of time? How can we “go into a desert” in the midst of our daily life?
We find the desert within our heart. We carry our desert wherever we go. Our conscious intention to stay focused on who we are and the discipline to stay connected to ourselves and the Father will build the trust that will get us through.
We will face the same temptations of Jesus. Is our temptation one of hunger — hunger for what fills us and makes us momentarily satisfied? Is our temptation power — to lord it over people and rely on our own ability? Is our temptation greed — to make the comforts of life available to ourselves while ignoring others? All three are at the heart of the human experience, temptations which could turn us away from our true selves.
Giving ourselves the “place” of the desert — the inner focus — will bring us to the Father. And it is in communion with the Father that our true identity will become a reality.
SISTER RACHEL Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.