by Rosemarie Pace
Pax Christi New York

Ed. Note: At key moments throughout the liturgical year, long-time regional coordinator Rosemarie Pace will offer reflections timed the season with accompanying prayers and suggested actions.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus … was led by the Holy Spirit
into the desert for forty days… (Luke 4:1)

Today, we, too, are led by the Holy Spirit into a desert space, if not a literal desert, for forty days in observance of the holy season of Lent. But what does this desert experience look like for us?

If we look at Jesus’s experience in the desert, we see that he placed himself entirely in the hands of God, praying and fasting, away from all distractions, and, yes, being tempted. While we may not have 40 days to follow Jesus’s example exactly, we can try to find moments each day of Lent to acknowledge our dependence on God, to set aside distractions, to pray and to fast.

And it seems safe to say, Pope Francis would agree. In his Lenten Message for 2022, he describes Lent in a number of ways. One that certainly fits a desert experience is as a call to listen to the word of God, “to place our faith and hope in the Lord.” Using the imagery of sowing and reaping, growing and harvesting, he goes on to refer to the common practices of Lent—fasting, praying, and almsgiving—this way: “The soil is prepared by fasting, watered by prayer, and enriched by charity.” So how do we do this?

Finding our desert space in itself may be a form of fasting. Another way may be inspired by something else Pope Francis wrote. He warns against the addiction of many to digital media. Might we consider fasting from that, at least for a period of time each Lenten day, as part of our desert experience? Praying is probably the most obvious way to spend some desert time, and again we can turn to Pope Francis who appeals to us not to grow tired of praying. Using the pandemic as example, he reminds us of our human fragility and our need for God. With today’s modern technology, it might even be possible to give alms from the desert—in the form of a financial donation—but the kind of almsgiving that is more commonly intended during Lent may call us out of the desert. That’s OK. Jesus did not stay in the desert. He left renewed for ministry, and we, too, can use our desert time as preparation for our own ministry to others.

Once more Pope Francis is with us, encouraging us not to “grow tired of doing good in active charity toward our neighbors.” Jesus offered a compassionate heart, a helping hand, a listening ear, an instructive word, a forgiving spirit. Certainly, we can do likewise. Our actions don’t have to be grand. Pope Francis writes, “In God, no act of love, no matter how small, and no ‘generous effort’ will ever be lost” (cr. Evangelii Gaudium, 279). He adds that this is a process, “not to be achieved once and for all; [it has] to be realized each day” (Fratelli Tutti, 11).

And so this Lent, let us spend some time in our own desert relying on God, praying, fasting, and being renewed to emerge serving one another as generously as we are able, comforted in the knowledge that sometimes we will be tempted, sometimes we will fail, but always we can get up and continue on the way.

Prayer (adapted from an “Ash Wednesday Blessing” from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers)

Merciful God, you called us forth from the dust of the earth;
you claimed us for Christ in the waters of Baptism.
Look upon us as we observe these Forty Days …
and bless our journey through the desert of Lent to the font of rebirth.
May our fasting be hunger for justice;
our alms, a making of peace;
our prayer, the chant of humble and grateful hearts.
All that we do and pray is in the name of Jesus for
in his Cross you proclaim you love forever and ever. Amen.

Suggested Actions

Please spend some time with this reflection. Also consider doing the following:

  • Read the complete Lenten Message of Pope Francis
  • Make time and find a place that can be your special desert space where you can be with God in prayer. Talk to God and listen. Enjoy the spiritual intimacy.
  • Fast from things that may hurt you, not necessarily food, but bad habits that lead you away from God and others.
  • Lend a helping hand, a willing ear, or a comforting word to someone in need. Give materially, as well, if you are able.
  • Join Pax Christi for more ways to pray, study, and act for peace and justice. Browse the website, and be sure to help celebrate 50 years of Pax Christi USA in August in the DC area. See this link for all the details.

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