From the first day we're born, we are bombarded by advertisements and commercials whose sole purpose is to get us to want more, to purchase more stuff. We are told that "more" is "better." It keeps our computer society prospering. Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is NOT about getting more; it's about having less. It's about simplifying our lives. It's all about walking a 40-day journey with Jesus in the desert wasteland. Three times in today's Gospel, Jesus resists powerful temptations for more : more power, more wealth, more influence. He passes the test. Do we? To accompany Jesus, we have to rid ourselves of the pervasive desire for "more" : whether the "more" is candy, caffeine, cell phones, beer, cigarettes, super-sized food servings, gossiping : whatever!
To walk this journey with Jesus, we pray, we fast, we give up things, we help others, we resist the ads that turn our wants into needs. Only when we empty ourselves do we become his true companions. Only when we stop thinking so much of ourselves do we make room for others. That's precisely what Jesus did in the desert. That's how he found the strength to journey with us, to teach us, to heal us, to free us from narrow-mindedness, ignorance and false prophets. Jesus reminds us we are in essence deeply spiritual beings on an important human journey, and that we are made in the image of an all-loving Abba God. Out in that desert, Jesus empties himself to make room for us.
The point of this Lent, indeed of every Lent, is to empty ourselves to make room for Jesus. In doing so, we don't mean to glorify pain or deprivation. We don't die to life and love. We die to those forces that diminish life and love. The same Jesus who tells us "Blessed are the hungry" is the very Jesus who immediately adds, "for they shall be filled." Our Gospel is not a Gospel of hunger or emptiness for its own sake, nor is it a message of simply enduring pain and suffering and doing without. The Gospel of Jesus is the "Good News." It's about emptiness for awhile, hunger and pain for the moment, but only for the moment. Ours is a Gospel of Bread to feed our hunger, of healing to relieve our suffering and distress, of a promised new life even in the face of death.
Yes, the point of walking this Lenten journey with Jesus is to help us achieve a more focused life. The purpose of the pain we experience along the way is to deepen our capacity to understand and love others who are in pain. The value of living in the darkness is to learn to appreciate the Light. A short time ago we were marked with blackened ashes, but only so that we can join Jesus and become his Easter people.
Have a blessed and grace-filled Lent!