Grace: To know how Jesus experiences the desert as preparation for ministry, to love him and imitate him more closely.
Text for Prayer: Mk. 1:12-13
Reflection: One of my favorite writers is Carlo Carretto, a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of desert contemplatives. In his book Letters from the Desert, Carretto recounts the fruitfulness of his ten years in the African Sahara. He relates how he found his vocation to live in the desert, and what this experience meant for his life as a Christian. While working for the Catholic Action movement in Italy, Carretto felt a strong desire to lead a contemplative life and served others in the spirit of Charles de Foucauld. He felt God’s call in the depth of his being, “Leave everything and come with me into the desert. It is not your acts and deeds that I want; I want your prayer, your love.” As a contemplative, Carretto recognized that the desert was the most challenging experience of his life, but also the most fruitful, for the desert ignites the purification of the senses, thoughts, soul, mind, and heart.
Wandering in the desert, Carretto often pondered on the experience of Jesus in the wilderness, how “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, where he remained forty days and was tempted by Satan” (Mk. 1:12). In the wilderness, both Jesus and Carretto experienced the God of life, the presence always present that stirs us to love and service. Just as it happened to Jesus and to Carretto, the Spirit drives us to retreat to the desert—to our desert. When we think of a desert, our minds might first go to the geographical deserts of the world—long stretches of sand with clumps of date trees in oases scattered here and there. Most of us are not blessed with that experience; we are invited to experience the spiritual desert of our lives. For Jesus, going to the desert was a period of preparation before he began his ministry. There, he faced temptations to power, prestige, and pleasure. For most of us, the desert is a place away from the pace of our busy life where we can connect more deeply with the God of life. The desert is a place to meet God, a place to be vulnerable and powerless, and a place of yearning, silence, and prayer.
The Spirit drives us to that place where we can empty ourselves in order to tell Jesus: fill me with Yourself alone. In the desert of our lives, the Spirit of Love moves us to take time for prayer, penance, and reconciliation. In the wilderness, God invites us to remove those aspects of our lives that keep us from living life to the fullest. Like peeling the layers of an onion, we remove all that makes us prisoners of sin and confines us to the expectations that the world places upon us. As we peel each layer, the heart, the essence of our being, is revealed. The desert is a place of self-abandonment, where our entire self can breathe Jesus—and Jesus alone.
In the desert, the Spirit of Love prompts us to get rid of those aspects of our lives that separate us from God, from others, and from ourselves. The practices of penance, fasting, prayer, and silence allow us to experience the freedom that moves us to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need. The desert experience purifies us to live our baptism more actively—to be missionary disciples.
Prayer: God of life, help me to find moments and places where I can withdraw in order to draw closer to the Heart of Jesus. Stir my heart with love for You, that I might yearn more deeply for your presence and for the words of eternal life. May this desert purify me of all that distracts me from the building of the Kingdom. Ignite my heart with the desire to encounter Jesus and to share the fruitfulness of that experience with the rest of the world. Amen.