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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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Athanasius: Athanasius led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism, the teaching by Arius that Jesus was not truly divine. The vigor of his writings earned him the title of doctor of the Church. 
<p>Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and given a classical education, Athanasius became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, entered the priesthood and was eventually named bishop himself. His predecessor, Alexander, had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the East—Arianism. </p><p>When Athanasius assumed his role as bishop of Alexandria, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Council of Tyre was called and for several reasons that are still unclear, the Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of St. Paul. </p><p>After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters. </p><p>Five times Athanasius was exiled for his defense of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. During one period of his life, he enjoyed 10 years of relative peace—reading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all polemic, directed against every aspect of Arianism. </p><p>Among his ascetical writings, his<i> Life of St. Anthony</i> (January 17) achieved astonishing popularity and contributed greatly to the establishment of monastic life throughout the Western Christian world.</p> American Catholic Blog Suffering is redemptive in part because it definitively reveals to man that he is not in fact God, and it thereby opens the human person to receive the divine.

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