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Seasonal Reflection: Into the Desert

by Brian Smail, OFM
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The Province’s vocation director describes the importance of being confident that the Spirit is with us in the “deserts of life.” This reflection is reprinted with permission from the Spring 2011 issue of Be A Franciscan, the newsletter of the Franciscan Vocation Ministry.

The gospels for the First Sunday of Lent each year tell us the story of Jesus’s sojourn in the desert. Each account reveals that it is the Spirit that leads Jesus into the wilderness, where he spends “forty days and forty nights.” During this time, Jesus is tested by the devil. The story follows the Baptism of Jesus, where the Spirit comes upon him and identifies him as God’s “beloved Son.” And now, this same Spirit will accompany Jesus during his time in the desert.

This gospel tells us that Jesus is hungry from fasting, and no doubt tired and feeling very much alone. He finds himself in a barren, inhospitable place; Mark’s gospel makes reference to “wild animals” in the desert. Along comes the devil, who tempts a weary Jesus three times. He offers Jesus comfort, wealth, and power, but Jesus remains the beloved Son, faithful to the mission that lies ahead of him.

From time to time, all of us have “desert experiences” in our lives. We, too, can find ourselves hungry for change, weary from the ups and downs of life. We may feel alone or tempted to make wrong choices. These experiences may not play themselves out in some barren wasteland, but they can come through the experiences of our everyday lives, such as the loss of a loved one, personal struggles, broken relationships, illness or unemployment. Or, we may simply be in the process of evaluating our lives and thinking in new directions.

desert - CopyAs the Spirit guided Jesus in his own desert experience, so, too, that same Spirit is with us in our deserts. And we can be confident that the Spirit will lead us safely through whatever challenges life brings our way.

No matter where we find ourselves during these 40 days, Lent is an invitation to step back and take a look at our lives, as well as our relationships with God and neighbor. It is a time to grow in holiness, a word that means “set apart.” One way to do that during this holy season is to foster the gospel values of peace, justice, care for creation, and charity in our everyday lives.

St. Francis modeled these virtues throughout his life. More than 800 years later, the Franciscans of today continue to embrace his gospel way of living by making a difference in our world.

During this Lent, I invite you to pray and reflect on whether God is calling you to be a Franciscan. May the Spirit guide you in your discernment, and may you have a blessed Lenten season.

— Fr. Brian, a native of Massachusetts, has served as the Province’s vocation director since fall 2007.