During Lent, we apprentice to Jesus in his forty-day sojourn in the desert. We stubbornly stay with him, doing what he did there, facing what he faced there.
The desert is the place of clarification. When we have been stripped of the relatively trivial desires that preoccupy us, we can see, with a somewhat disturbing clarity, who we essentially are and what most pressingly matters. Blaise Pascal said that most of us spend our lives seeking divertissements (distractions), for we cannot bear the weight of the great questions. We play, gossip, eat and drink, seek the most banal entertainment—so that we don’t have to face the truth about ourselves, the reality of death, and the demands of God. The Spirit drives holy people into the desert because it is the place where the divertissements disappear: “He fasted for forty days and forty nights.”
At the end of the Lord’s fast, the tempter arrives—because decision follows clarification. How often in the Scripture the theme of decision arises. Jesus himself provokes the stark choice: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
And then Jesus is ready for mission; immediately after the temptations, he gathers his disciples around him and commences the ministry that will reach its culmination only on the cross.
So this Lent, let us resolve to rid ourselves of divertissements, going a bit hungry and thirsty, purposely running on empty—so that the great questions may be asked with clarity. Let us allow the devil to come, tempting us with the love of pleasure, the ego, and power— for in temptation comes decision. And in the desert with Jesus the Master, let us realize that we too are people on mission—because in decision comes identity.
Bishop Robert Barron