At our Cathedral in Reno Nevada, Father Francisco Nahoi began his homily by quoting our Beloved Pope Benedict XVI, “The liturgy of Lent has the aim of facilitating our journey of spiritual renewal in the light of this long biblical experience… It helps us to imitate Jesus who, in the forty days He spent in the wilderness, taught us to overcome temptation through the Word of God… Jesus was beset by temptation and the seduction of the Evil One, who suggested a messianic path, a path which was far from God’s plans because it involved power, success and dominion, not love and the total gift of self on the Cross.”
The Pope continued in his Angelus for Ash Wednesday, “The Church herself is a pilgrim in the “wilderness” of the world and history. This wilderness is of “the aridity and poverty of words, life and values, of secularism and the culture… The sky above us is dark, veiled with clouds of selfishness, misunderstanding, and deceit.”
Father Francisco related how Jesus went out into the wilderness to confront this aridity and poverty so we could follow him. What came to mind was the reading from Luke 5:8, “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” To truly encounter God, is to realize just how arid and poverty filled our lives really are. This is a very scary and fear filled experience, not one any wishes to experience.
Father Francisco related, there is also the physical dimension. The topography of the high desert all around Reno is very similar to the topography of the desert just outside of Jerusalem, where Jesus underwent his temptation. If one goes out unprepared, one can expect to die from lack of water, and if one has water, food. Who wants to follow this path? Yet, Jesus wants us to follow this path.
The article, “The seed is sown, so where on the ground are you part 2” discusses this spiritual dimension of the wilderness. In the Midrash of the sower, the first ground is where the seed falls and the birds eat the seed. The birds are the chirping birds warning the other birds/people of the self-righteous religious people who go to synagogue/church on Sabbath/Sunday, and whose faith is about what they do on Sunday and everyone else is supposed to do the rest of the week. People hear the chirping, see the aridity and poverty of this lifestyle, and run elsewhere. As the Midrash continues, the ground becomes progressively harder. The hardest soil is not the rock, but ground with the weeds, the poverty of the secular lifestyle and the pursuit of secular wealth over world community under God.
The opposite of this is the spirit filled soil. Spirit-filled ground is aerated ground, soft and pliable ground. Good ground can be millimeters away from bad ground. All are but sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. Except for bad soil being hard and good soil soft, they are the same. Bad soil clings to itself; good soil nourishes others, reaching out to others/community.
Father Francisco pointed to the epitome of community, the Eucharist, where Jesus dies for us and rises again, for the first time, each time we attend Mass. When Jesus goes into the wilderness, he faces the temptation we all face, to give up on community and try to face the trial of limited resources ourselves. The result is death. Father asked us, “Do we choose life, life for our community, and ourselves or do we choose death? Do we choose life in the spirit, or do we choose to be hard and callous toward others?” With our Beloved Pope Father Francisco asks, do we choose a messianic path, a path far from God’s plans because it involved power, success, and dominion? Do we choose a path of aridity and poverty, a life of misunderstanding, selfishness, and deceit, or do we choose a life of love and the total gift of self on the Cross?”