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Bible Reflections View Comments

Finding Life in Our Deserts
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2013
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When Moses speaks to the Israelites in today’s First Reading, they are ready to enter the Promised Land. He knows that abundance can be even more of a temptation than hunger. Like the Israelites, we can never forget that all we have comes from the Lord.

Too often we are tempted to take the easy way out—the pleasures of creature comforts, the glamour of power, a cynical attitude toward promises of goodness and salvation. Is this where our identity truly lies? Is this the kind of people we want to be?

If we are to discover our identity as Christians, we must accept the fact that our journey is going to take us into the desert—away from the comforts of this world, toward realities that we would rather avoid. This identity must be sought in the desert. Never is this more true than during the season of Lent.

The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent recounts the story of Jesus’s temptation in the desert. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus receives the title “beloved son” at his baptism. “Filled with the Holy Spirit,” Jesus is led by that same spirit into the desert to embrace his identity. In the Hebrew tradition, the desert was the great place of testing during the Exodus journey. An entire generation of Israelites wandered, rebelled, and ultimately perished during the 40- year desert journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. The desert was the place where they were formed as the people of God, the chosen ones of the great covenant.

Sometimes we choose to enter into the desert. Many of the fasting traditions associated with Lent are based on this idea. Denying our physical and psychological hungers can reveal a yawning emptiness that we might not know is there. It is when we are most aware of our weaknesses that despair is most tempting. It is when we are hungry that we think we will do anything for bread.

Other times, we are led into a spiritual desert by circumstances—serious illness, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one—and in that emptiness, too, we can be tempted to despair and hopelessness. We know that the only way out is through and we pray for strength on the journey.

In either case, what makes the biggest difference in the journey is being secure in the name the Lord has spoken in the depths of our hearts. We, too, are called to be sons and daughters of God. Through our baptism and confirmation, we, too, are filled with the Holy Spirit. In the stark desert, we discover the undying love that is ours when we’ve given up everything that doesn’t lead us to the Lord.

Only after we have emptied ourselves can the Lord fill us. The way of Jesus of Nazareth leads not only through the desert, but to the cross. Only through death is there life. This is the covenant God has made with his people, a covenant sealed with the love and compassion of his only Son. We can’t use our identity as sons and daughters for our own advantage, to satisfy selfish and often secular desires. Neither can we test God in his commitment to us. He has promised us the ultimate gift of life and we have to believe in this promise.

If we accept the covenant, if we are to live this love, then we must also give back to the Lord all the benefits of our healing. When we finally come through the desert, when our lives are fruitful once more, we delight in giving the Lord the best of this abundance as he has so lavishly showered us with his blessings.


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Apollonia: The persecution of Christians began in Alexandria during the reign of the Emperor Philip. The first victim of the pagan mob was an old man named Metrius, who was tortured and then stoned to death. The second person who refused to worship their false idols was a Christian woman named Quinta. Her words infuriated the mob and she was scourged and stoned. 
<p>While most of the Christians were fleeing the city, abandoning all their worldly possessions, an old deaconess, Apollonia, was seized. The crowds beat her, knocking out all of her teeth. Then they lit a large fire and threatened to throw her in it if she did not curse her God. She begged them to wait a moment, acting as if she was considering their requests. Instead, she jumped willingly into the flames and so suffered martyrdom.</p><p>There were many churches and altars dedicated to her. Apollonia is the patroness of dentists, and people suffering from toothache and other dental diseases often ask her intercession. She is pictured with a pair of pincers holding a tooth or with a golden tooth suspended from her necklace. St. Augustine explained her voluntary martyrdom as a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since no one is allowed to cause his or her own death.</p> American Catholic Blog We can find Christ among the despised, voiceless, and forgotten of the world. We have to move beyond that which we wish to ignore and forget about: embrace the seemingly un-embraceable, love the unlovable, and dare to know what we most fear and wish to leave unknowable.

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