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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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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Heavenly Father, I am sure there are frequently tiny miracles where you protect us and are present to us although you always remain anonymous. Help me appreciate how carefully you watch over me and my loved ones all day long, and be sensitive enough to stay close to you. I ask this in Jesus's name. Amen.

 
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