Our ‘deserts’ are places where we are transformed into the story God wants
By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB
Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist/June 24
Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 139:1b-3,13-14ab,14c-15; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66,80
Each life God has created is a story. Whether or not we are aware, we tell a story by our words and actions. We may not know the impact or the meaning of the story until a later time or maybe never.
I am reminded of a passage from a book by William Bausch, “When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking”: “When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I wanted to paint another one. When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, and I believed there is a God I could always talk to. When you thought I wasn’t looking, I felt you kiss me good night, and I felt loved. When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared, and I wanted to be everything that I could be.”
When we meet people who embody the richness of the Gospel, radiating joy and peace, it warms our heart and makes life a bit more meaningful and clear. As Pope Francis wrote in “Rejoice and Be Glad,” each saint is a mission planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.
And so it is with John the Baptist. His role was simply to be a forerunner of the Savior, declaring, “I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.” But his story was much more.
A GRACED PLACE
The reading from Isaiah sets the stage for John’s life and mission. “The Lord called me from birth; he made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. . . . Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord.” (Isaiah 49:2,3)
Fulfillment of one’s mission does not come without transformation. Before John could fulfill his mission, he spent time in the desert. There he encountered starkness and emptiness. But this is the graced place that transformed him. It was in the desert that John became aware of his role to be a sharp-edged sword to the world Jesus was to enter. “He was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.” (Luke 1: 80) It was the desert that formed John into the saint whose mission was to be the one to proclaim God to a weary world.
And so it is with us. If we are to tell our story with richness and joy, we are also to heed to words of Isaiah: “The Lord called me from birth. . . . Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spending my strength,” we discover that the desert is the place where, though there seemed to be no promise of life, it is the graced place that can turn our hearts to the compassion that God formed our lives to be. We learn that the desert is the place of our transformation.
The desert takes many forms and shapes. Each of us is uniquely called to be formed into the story God wants us to tell. The desert is that place where we make room for God to form us into the story we are to proclaim. It is our mission to be the saint whose story can be told only by us in a particular moment in history.
Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, and has served as a teacher, campus minister, and pastoral associate in the Diocese of Peoria.