March 20, 2022
The Desert is something we all experience in different ways. Scripture often speaks of it. Understanding its mysteries can give us hope.
- There are deserts that we choose and there are deserts that are not our choice but are given by God as a period of trial and hope.
- The desert can be hard, confusing, dark and frightening and sometimes feel like we are not going to survive. It shows the difficulty of how our Christian faith can be to follow God’s will.
- The desert of our life is temporary, it’s a journey or passage. Our life on earth is not the destination.
- This is the only life we have, the only opportunity to achieve the real infinite happiness that God wants us to have.
- The desert is effective, it is a formation to God’s path to Him.
- The desert is a place of testing to humble us. It’s a place of free will and decision to accept His will.
The desert is hard, the desert is temporary, and the desert is effective. We had in our reading today, Moses being called to lead his people from the slavery and oppression of Egypt. Moses is a sign of Jesus, who is called to lead us, if we listen to Him, to lead us from the slavery and oppression of Satan and sin, to the promised land of Heaven.
This life is our desert passage, that desert passage, which is to prepare us. It’s not just getting from one place to another, it’s about a formation, an interior transformation of us. The Lord did not make us for the desert. He made us for everlasting joy. But the desert is the path that He leads us through, to this everlasting joy.
“God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happen as an example for us. So that we may not desire evil things as they did. These things happen to them as an example. And they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come.” St. Paul is insisting how much the history of Exodus and of the people going through the desert is also a teaching that God has given us. It has a message for us, in a sense, it’s your story also. So, what does this desert, which is so important in Scripture, and not just for them, but for us? What is its meaning in our lives? And I think of this a lot, because listening to a lot of people and the experiences that a lot of people are having right now, a lot of you, also for our own community, for our own little mission. And I’ve had a lot more experience in the desert, than I wanted too. And so, it’s given me a lot of chances to reflect the desert. And so, the desert might seem a very discouraging topic. I think it’s hard, but on the contrary, I think it gives a lot of hope. So, what do we mean by the desert? So, there’s different senses of the desert. Of course, one thing is the place that the desert that the Israelites are going through. But the desert can also mean a special effort that we are making for a time, like Jesus who went into the desert for 40 days. It was a special effort that He was making, a special spiritual effort. Or like Lent, Lent is in a sense, like a desert, a special time in which we are putting aside some things that give us pleasure and making a special effort. Or maybe a person is going on a retreat, or like the men making the Exodus 90 are different programs, that in which we for time, we make sacrifices to make a special spiritual effort. So those are deserts that we choose. But then there’s also deserts that are not our choice. But that God gives us sometimes, a period of trial. A lot of the saints have talked about a period of trial, a very difficult period of trial that they went through, like St. Faustina talks about it, right at the very beginning, for her vacation. And Mother Teresa, we’ve talked about hers, which seemed to last pretty much all her life, after a certain point. And so that leads us to this other sense of the desert, the desert, not just as a short period, but the desert, basically, as the Christian path on this life, or Christian experience on this earth. God didn’t create the world as a desert, God created the world, as a paradise, as a beautiful garden. But it’s sin, the desert is caused by sin, which caused us to experience a harsh, barren world, the way our world is often harsh, now. And so that’s why our life can be our experience can be a very hard, cold world, we think, for instance, of all the people suffering right now, in the Ukraine and so many other places, and not just far away, but close, life can be very hard. So, the desert, reflecting on the desert helps us to be realistic about life. But also, it’s helpful and gives us hope. So, I want to focus on three key points about the desert. The first point is the desert is hard. The desert is dry, barren, lacking and consolations, and whether it’s the physical desert, or whether it’s the interior desert, a desert, which is dry and experience in which even our spiritual life, we’re trying to follow the Lord, which may be at one point had a lot of consolations, and a lot of enthusiasm. And now I see this all the time, and I’ve experienced it often myself things, that used to be like maybe prayer or prayers of devotions or so forth that used to give us a lot of joy, and consolation and peace, and now we don’t feel any attraction to them and they don’t seem to be helping us in the same way. And following the Lord has become very difficult. The desert is also often confusing and dark. A lot of things don’t seem to make sense, we don’t understand very well, what’s happening. And the desert can be frightening because we can feel like we’re not going to be able to survive. That’s the way the Israelites felt. And so it’s interesting that I’ll just read one passage from the Israelites that it’s striking how even after so many miracles that they saw, the desert was so hard that even after all these miracles, they were tempted to turn back. There’s one passage where it says, “with their patience worn out by the journey,” and I think how much this also speaks about the Christian journey, “with their patients worn out by the journey, that people complained against God and Moses, why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert?” So again, even though they’ve seen miracles, the desert is so barren, and so hard, that they feel they’re gonna die. They said, “Where there is no food or water. We are disgusted with this wretched food. We’re discussed and we’re sick of this wretched are sick and tired of the food.” What is the wretched food? It’s the manna that the Lord is giving them. At one point, the manna, says it’s the bread from heaven that had all the delights that each person wanted. And that must be true in a certain sense, but also hear them saying, “We’re sick and tired of this food that you’re giving us every day.” What are we eating today? Manna for breakfast, manna for lunch, manna for dinner. Well, sometimes I had quail too. That was good, though, but it was quail and manna every day. Quail and manna, quail and manna, quail and manna. So they’re, there. So, the Bible is so frank and honest about this path. Even with all these miracles, where they’re saying, “We’re disgusted with this food you’re giving us and we’re sick and tired of this path. We’re going to die here.” And so it’s a sign for us, a very clear sign of how hard this path of God had become. And how hard the path our path as a Christian can become. Our path of following God’s will, give us this day our daily bread. And Jesus says His bread, His nourishment is to do the Father’s will. Sometimes the Father’s will gives us joy. But sometimes our Father’s will, we feel like we’re stuck in a desert, and it’s the same old food over and over, which for our humanity, it’s not very appealing. So what is this bread doing? It’s sustaining them. It’s keeping them alive. But it doesn’t taste very good. They’re sick of it. And so, it’s healthy for their bodies. But it’s not, you know, it’s like a leavened bread. And so, they have to make a decision. Do we persevere in this path? Which is sustaining us, but it’s so hard? Or do we turn around?
Do we give up? Even this bread, of course, we can also see it as a reference to the Blessed Sacrament, to the Eucharist. The Eucharist truly is the bread come down from heaven. But sometimes we can feel all the same old Mass, same old Mass. How many boring Masses with boring priests giving long homilies that we’ve been to. So the Mass in the Eucharist, sometimes the Lord can give a special graces and what you feel so much His presence. But sometimes, we don’t feel anything, many times we don’t feel anything. We can feel like the Israelites. It’s this bread in the desert, which doesn’t give us satisfaction, doesn’t give us consolation, but is still sustaining us. So sometimes the Eucharist and many times the Eucharist is like this bread in the desert. St. Faustina says, “although the earth is so filled with people, I feel all alone. And the earth is a terrible desert for me.” The earth is a terrible desert, and this is St. Faustina who is receiving all these graces from the Lord, and she says the earth is a terrible desert for her. And so, it shouldn’t surprise us, it’s often our experience as a Christian, the earth we begin to experience as sometimes that there’s good things. Again, for instance today we have a beautiful day but oftentimes spiritually the earth is like a desert. She says, “Oh Jesus, Jesus, you know and understand the ferventness of my heart. You alone Lord can fill me.” You alone can fill me and she, even though she’s experiencing while at the same time, her experience of Him is still so far from what she is hoping for. So, one of the important things to realize is that the fact that things are hard, doesn’t mean that our life is like a desert, it doesn’t mean that something went wrong, that we took the wrong path. That’s what the Israelites were saying, this is not, this can’t be the right path because this is way too hard. We want the promised land. This doesn’t feel at all like the promised land. But so, one of the things this is teaching us is that the path to the Promised Land is the desert. But it doesn’t look like a path to the Promised Land. Doesn’t feel like you’re past the promise and feels like the opposite? So that’s the second point, the first point the desert is hard. The second point is the desert is, and this is a good point, the desert is temporary. It doesn’t last forever, it’s a journey, it’s a passage. And you know, a lot of times trips are not so easy. A lot of times we have to leave the comforts of home. And a lot of times trips can involve a lot of sacrifice, especially some trips and more difficult places. And they might not be fun at all, they might not be enjoyable at all, but we’re doing it sometimes to get to someplace. Because we want to get to the destination. Sometimes it’s not the trip that we enjoy. But it’s worth a sacrifice, making a sacrifice to get someplace. And that’s what this is, the desert. It’s not because we enjoy the desert, but it’s to get someplace. And that’s a reminder that our life on earth is not the destination, it’s a passage. And that’s not something controversial to say. But in our world, so much of our world is trying to make us forget that, to see this earth as all that there is, instead of a passage. There’s a long time ago, I think it was probably in the 60s, there was an old beer commercial that said you only go around once in life they have to grab all the gusto. And I guess there was some beer, I don’t know, Budweiser, Schlitz or something but so kind of like that. You’ve got to grab for the gusto with as much Budweiser, Schlitz as you can get and enjoy life, the maximum because that’s the only opportunity you have, instead of telling us that you’re going on once in life. So, you have to use this opportunity to achieve the real infinite happiness that God wants you to have. Because this is our only opportunity, this is the only life to prepare for that. So, the desert is temporary. That’s important. And the third point is the desert is effective. It doesn’t feel like the right way, it doesn’t feel like the right path. It doesn’t feel like the path to God because God seems absent. But it is the path to God. God is forming us, the desert is a formation. And the Lord says, and this is the passage from Deuteronomy, Deuteronomy was at the very end of the Israelites as after their passage through the desert as they’re just about to enter into the promised land. This is the teaching from Deuteronomy, then so I’ll read you a passage. “The Lord says to Moses, the whole commandment that I command you today, you shall be careful to do that you may live and multiply and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give your father.” So that’s the reason. This is so you can go into the Promised Land. “And you shall remember the whole way the Lord your God has led you to these 40 years through the desert, wilderness.” So, now he’s going to say why, “that He might humble you.” So, the desert was to humble them. The desert is to humble us. When the Lord gives us great spiritual consolations and spiritual highs. There’s a big danger of pride, spiritual pride, when He leads us to the desert, that’s so hard and so poor and so humiliating. The desert is humiliating. But it helps to make us humble. That’s one of the great things that the Lord says that He might humble you, humility is so important. That’s one of the roles that the desert is to humble us. He says testing you to know what was in your heart, that is to purify our heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So, the desert is a place of testing. It’s not hard to be faithful to the Lord when He’s giving us spiritual highs. But when the Spirit, when it’s more spiritual low, when everything is so difficult, that’s when we really have to choose, am I going to continue or not? That’s a real test. “And He humbled you and let you hunger, and fed you with manna, which you did not know. Nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Your clothing did not wear out on you, and your foot did not swell these 40 years.” That is the Lord saying, it was very hard. But you see how I sustained you. It wasn’t fun, it was hard. But you see how I sustained you and gave you what you needed. “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines His Son, the Lord your God disciplines you.” So that’s what the desert is, it’s a formation, the Lord is forming us for Himself. “So, you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in His ways and fearing Him.” And so now he’s going to talk about the promised land for the Lord. So, imagine this is the people who’ve just spent 40 years in this terrible, barren, dry, rock, empty desert. “For the Lord, your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks, of water, of fountains, and springs.” You know, we just given some new land here nearby. And one of the exciting things was when we found that there was a spring of water on that land, you know, because water is so scarce here. “So this is a land, of brooks of water, of fountains and springs flowing out in the valleys in the hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates. A land of olive trees, and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, and what you will lack, nothing, a land who stones are iron, and out of those hills, you can dig copper, and you shall eat and be full. And you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land that He has given you.” So, the desert, they’re not meant to stay in the desert. The desert is to prepare them for the promised land. But what is the promised land, it’s not just Palestine. The real Promised Land, the Promised Land is an image of heaven, of the paradise that God is preparing for His children. So, we had today, Moses being called to lead his people from the slavery and oppression of Egypt. And Moses is a sign of Jesus, who is called to lead us, if we listen to Him, to lead us from the slavery and oppression of satan and sin, to the promised land of Heaven. But this life is our desert passage, that desert passage, which is to prepare us. So, the desert is about, it’s not just getting from one place to another, it’s about a formation, an interior transformation of us. That’s why the Lord says to the prophet Hosea, “I will lead you to the desert, and I will speak to your heart.” He says He’s talking about us, I will lead you to the desert, the desert, this difficult time, which is leading us from all the things that distract us, and tempts us and seduce us, He’s leading us away from that, to speak deeply to our heart. So that’s what the desert is. It’s an opportunity to hear the Lord in the depths of our heart. So the desert, as I said, it’s very effective. Because we have in the trial of the desert, we have to make the decision. Do I trust the Lord? Even though this path is very frightening? Or do I not trust? Do I hope in the Lord, that even though this path does not feel good at all, but I hope that He will lead me through to the joy that He has promised? And the desert is a test of love. Is the Lord first in my life, so that I’m willing to follow Him even when the path is painful and hurts? Or are there other things that I prefer before the Lord? So, the desert is a place of testing and formation. And so also the desert or the desert, isn’t just a place of testing, it’s a place in which each one of us has to make a decision. It’s a place of free will and decision, do I accept His will. Because the more we cooperate with Him, nobody likes the desert. But the more we cooperate with the Lord, say, Lord, I don’t like this. But I trust in You. You’re leading me through this, so I accept your will. If the Israelites had accepted God’s will, they would have gone through the desert much faster, I think it was going to be about a year and a half. And it was 40 years. Many died in the desert because they weren’t trusting the Lord. They weren’t cooperating. They weren’t accepting. So, we don’t have to like the desert. But the Lord’s not bringing us to it because it’s a fun place, but because it’s effective to getting us where we need to go. And the more we cooperate, the more we accept, the faster and easier it can go. And so, this is a prophecy from Isaiah, about the desert blossoming, the transformation, the desert, “the wilderness, and the desert shall be glad. The dry land shall rejoice and blossom, like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees, say to those who have an anxious heart, be strong, fear not, Behold, your God will come with vengeance with the recompense of God, He will come and save you. For the waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground, springs of water, no lion shall be there.” That’s what also the terrifying things the desert or the beasts that are there, “no lion shall be there, nor shall there any ravenous beasts come up on us, they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return. And come to Zion was singing. everlasting joy shall be upon their heads, they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” So, the Lord did not make us for the desert. He made us for everlasting joy. But the desert is the path that He leads us through to this everlasting joy. “I will lead you to the desert and speak to your heart.” So do not be surprised or dismayed when we experience spiritual deserts, but to let the Lord lead us through that, and purify and transform us through that, to lead us to the promised land. So we ask our Blessed Mother to be with us on this path so that we don’t give into discouragement, that we realize that as dark and dry as it is, if it’s the Lord’s will, it’s the right path. Jesus, we trust in You. Amen.