Lent: Like Journeying Across a Desert
Saint Edith Stein

Lent: Like Journeying Across a Desert

In the early 1930s, there was a French pilot flying across the Sahara Desert in Africa who had to make an emergency landing, wrecking his plane in the process. He was quite fortunate in that a tribe of Bedouins, or desert dwellers, was near by. They rescued him and cared for him, and in his gratitude he invited three of them to come visit him in France. Being from a wealthy family, he was able to pay all their expenses for the trip, and was determined to impress them with the beauty and wonder of modern civilization. However, things didn’t go quite as he had planned. As desert dwellers, the Bedouins had never even seen a house, and so it was truly a case of culture shock when they arrived in Paris, with the Arc d’Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower and other monuments, the magnificent buildings, the boulevards and traffic, the Métro, and many other overwhelming sights. Despite all this, the three visitors were unimpressed. However, when their host took them to the French Alps, they happened to see a waterfall, and they were stunned and amazed. The amount of water that plunged down in just one minute was more than their entire tribe was able to find and use throughout the course of a whole year. The seemingly endless supply of water was like a miracle, something utterly beyond their comprehension, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that their host could pull them away from the waterfall in order to continue the tour (Peter van Breemen, S.J., The God of Our Deepest Longings, pp. 67-68). We take the availability of ample supplies of clean water for granted, and so we forget that for many people, water is a scarce and precious life-giving treasure. This is why Jesus uses it as an analogy of God’s grace. Sometimes it isn’t until we stop to take a drink that we realize how truly thirsty we are. In the same way, it’s only by genuinely opening our hearts to the Lord that we discover how much we need and want Him. These weeks of Lent are an opportunity to spend time in our spiritual desert, for in this way we learn that Jesus alone can quench our deepest thirst.

During their journey to the promised land (Exodus 17:3-7), the Israelites crossed through dry, barren, inhospitable land, and as a result were desperately thirsty. In spite of their grumblings and whining and lack of trust, God responded to their needs. We see the same thing in the Gospel of John (4:5-42): even though the Samaritan woman was living in sin and unworthy of any divine blessing, Jesus spoke to her with love and offered her the gift of divine grace, a gift He described as a spring of life-giving water, a gift enabling those who receive it to offer true worship to God. The Lord is eager to bless those who trust in Him; as St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Romans (5:1-2, 5-8), “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” God is not stingy in giving us what we need, and we must not be stingy in our response to Him, nor lacking in faith, as were the Israelites in the desert. Instead, like the Samaritan woman, we must be open and trusting, and enthusiastic and grateful in accepting the graces and blessings the Lord offers us.

We might say that going through these six weeks of Lent is like journeying across a desert, with each Sunday serving as something of an oasis. This image or analogy doesn’t necessarily mean that Lent is difficult or unappealing because of its somber tone, our penitential practices, and the things we’re giving up; a more important meaning is that, just as a desert has few distractions and almost forces us to think about survival and the things that really matter, so Lent gives us the opportunity to focus on our spiritual priorities in life, and on whether we’re truly using God’s grace to overcome our faults and grow in holiness. We’re approaching the half-way point of Lent, and so we should be able to see some progress in this regard. Are we being faithful to our Lenten resolutions? Do we have a deeper awareness of our faults and sins, and a growing conviction of our need for God’s help in conquering them? Is our relationship with Jesus more of a priority in our lives than it was three weeks ago? If we can answer “yes” to these questions, the Lord is pleased, and wants us to continue along this same path. If our answer is “no,” or “not entirely,” the Lord isn’t angry or disappointed with us; instead, as He did with the Samaritan woman, He gently invites us to open our hearts to His words and to worship the Father in Spirit and truth by recommitting ourselves to make good use of the remaining weeks of this holy season.

St. Edith Stein, the Carmelite nun who died in a Nazi death camp in 1942 because of her Jewish ancestry, once wrote, “Divine life is love, overflowing, lavish, freely self- giving love. Love that heals what is sick and awakens to life what is dead. Love that protects and cherishes, nourishes, grieves and is joyful with the joyous, that is helpful to every creature, so that it may become what the Father has destined it to be” (van Breemen, op. cit., p. 69). This type of divine love that St. Edith describes is intended to quench our deepest thirst and help us grow into the persons God created and planned for us to become. Through the gifts of His Holy Spirit and the sacraments of His Church, Jesus wants to give us an inner spring of life-giving spiritual water. All that’s required of us is that we have the honesty, humility, and genuine desire to accept.

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper