|Christ in the Desert by Ivan Kramskoi|
Psalm 91:1-2, 10-15
One of the things that I love about the Gospels is that they are written in such a way as to allow us to enter into them and, like St. Ignatius of Loyola, see ourselves within them. As I was praying with the Gospel for this weekend, I was trying to enter into them in that way and was struck by the simplicity with which St. Luke describes Jesus after spending forty days fasting in the desert: “He was hungry.” He was hungry?! I don’t know about you but saying “He was hungry” seems to me to be the understatement of the millennium. I mean, I was about to tear into whatever moved in front of me come Wednesday evening and that was having had my permitted one meal and two small snacks. I can only imagine the hunger that Our Lord must have experienced after forty days with nothing.
As I was reflecting on that fact, alongside the other scriptures this weekend, it seemed to me that as much as Christ was longing for food during his time in the desert and the temptations, we should hunger even more for God. Our desire for God should be one of great intensity, passion and purpose. It reminds me of that old story of the man who goes to the wise spiritual master and says, ‘I want to find God and become holy.’ The master says ‘follow me’ and begins to walk. The two men come to a lake and the master continues in until the water is about waist deep, the man follows along. Turning to him, the master says, ‘Immerse yourself in the water.’ Thinking it would be a simple moment, the man went underwater. The master then moved over and held him down. The man thought it was a bit odd, but went with it. He was okay for a moment, until he realized the master wasn’t moving his hands. He began to move around, trying to get up for air but the master held him still. He was thrashing by this point and bubbles were starting to come up as his air ran out. Then when he could hold on no longer the master moved his hands and he sprung and took in a huge breath with a gasp and shock in his face. The master simply looked at him and said, ‘Until you desire God like you desired that breath, you will never be holy.’ Our thirst for God should be the same, and our readings this weekend help us to see that.
In the book of Deuteronomy we hear that the people ‘cried to the Lord’ and He brought them out because of those cries. To cry out to the Lord is not a little mumbled prayer to God but is something that is bold, alive, impassioned. Anyone who has experienced the loss of someone close to them, some major tragedy knows what it is to cry out to God. So, too, does the responsorial psalm speak of this intensity in relationship to God. “Because he clings to me, I will deliver Him” says that Lord in the psalm. The word ‘cling’ also has a sense of intensity connected to it. To cling, as I understand it, is to be white-knuckles-tight, not letting go for anything. That is a very powerful phrase to use, especially from the lips of God Himself! And yet it is because of that clinging that He is delivered, the same as the cry of the Israelites in Deuteronomy won them victory. It’s about passion.
Saturday morning we had a retreat with some of the high school students and we spent some time in the church reflecting on the meaning of different things in the church from the architecture to stained glass to the sanctuary. One of the beautiful reflections was given by [our pastor] Fr. Vincent on the three steps entering the sanctuary. It is a sign of the journey that each of us is making towards our God – or rather we should be making toward Him. If we start with the main floor being the world, then the first step is being ‘good’, the second step is being ‘better’, and the third step is ‘best’. Too often, he reflected, we think we’ve done a great job for ourselves by being ‘good’ and avoiding the sinful things of the world but the truth is that there are steps beyond simply being ‘good’. Here is the danger – that we think because we’re ‘good’ and are not doing what the world around us does then we’re okay in God’s eyes, but this may in fact be our demise because we become complacent rather than continuing to seek after God with the intensity He seeks and deserves.
May God grant us today a burning desire for union with Him and pour out His grace to help us always seek to become not simply ‘good’ or ‘better’ but in fact the best that we can be here on Earth, that we might reign gloriously in Heaven as Saints among the Saints for all eternity.