As we begin our Forty Days of Lenten wandering, let us allow the Holy Spirit to lead us out into the desert. Let's freely and happily accept these days of effort, interior struggle, penance, cleansing and allow a rebirth to be created for the love of God. This costly endeavor will also sanctify us and will bring good fruit and Christian joy.
In the Bible the desert is often presented as a place of encounter with God, as a way toward God, as a place of purification, conversion, and preparation for new tasks and challenges /cf. Moses- Exodus 3:1-3; Elijah -1 Kings 19/. It is enough to mention the forty-year journey of God's chosen people to the Promised Land. God was leading his nation through the desert, where He taught them a severe style of life, but at the same time He shared His faithful love for them. Of course we do not live in a real dessert, but we can envision our journey through this Lent in a analogous way.
What is it like? When we gaze at a desert, we are aroused by an awesomeness of the Almighty, and we are struck by the beauty and power of nature. We are attracted by the unlimited expanse and mystery, but this also brings fear, uncertainty, and possibly even terror. While discovering and wrestling with our own weakness and hunger, struggling with them, experiencing the up's and down's, moments of protest, conflicts and crises, all of this kind of experience brought Israel out from the desert as stronger and faithful people, who remained close to their God.
The temptations of Jesus also took place in the desert where He was alone. By his own example He wanted to show us how important a desert experience can be in our life when we wish to encounter the Father, and how we shall battle with Satan. /cf. Mathew 4: 1-8/. A Close relationship with the Father, God of Love, and fidelity to His Commandments gives us the strength to persevere, teaches us truth, forgiveness, love, and shows us our way to perfection: Be holy because I am holy /1 Peter 1:16/. The Tempter’s aim is to weaken and destroy these relationships, and he does everything that you will not Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, as we learn from the Book of Deuteronomy /6:8/.
Dear Sisters, each one of us is called to walk the way of perfection, which requires a great spiritual effort to know God, to put death to sin, and with the pain of birth to give a new life. St. Vincent Pallotti called: My God, who are you and who am I in Your presence? Not just once should we ask ourselves this question... May it return to us again in this Lenten journey through the desert. And like Pallotti, let us sincerely ask God, Merciful Love, that He will grant us, His unworthy servants, the courage to stand before Him in transparency and truth. Let us ask Him for the grace of knowing what will strengthen our lively faith, rekindle love, and reawaken us to do good deeds of love for God and the needy. Furthermore, Pallotti prayed: I do not know you as I should know, because if I would know you as I should - I would love you, I would be completely separated from the world; and I would love Jesus, your Son so much that I would follow Him in a perfect way, because from your grace this would be possible for me /OOCC X/.
So Dear Sisters, let us go out to the desert away from our comfort zone and our abundance to a place of solitude, where we will be able to discover our fragility and smallness, poverty of soul, and egoism of heart. May the Lord grant us the experience of His grace, His compassionate love, and that joy of hearing His voice from the desert calling us to conversion. Being motivated by Pope Francis to go “out of ourselves", let us be ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution, and follow the Gospel message of the merciful love of God, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ, /Lenten Message 2014/.
Assuring you of my prayers, I wish all of you, a deep authentic transformation and joyful encounter with God. I wish that this Lenten wandering through the desert will open our hearts and eyes to the needs of others, to whom we want to bring tangible help; may this time strengthen our sensitivity toward human destitution and reawake in us a sense of responsibility for the whole of humanity.
Sr. Izabela Świerad, SAC
Rome, Lent 2014