Fr. Luke Uebler Sunday Homily
“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days.” Words from our Gospel today from the 1st chapter of the Gospel according to St. Mark – sisters and brothers may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
One of the Lenten prayers of the old translation of the Roman Missal went like this: “each year, O God, you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed.” As a penitential season where we give up different things, Lent doesn’t always feel so joyful, but more so: serious and stern. So, we are going to kick off our Lenten Journey with a little playfulness. Our Gospel today begins by saying, “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.” Hearing that made me wonder what kind of car does the Holy Spirit drive?
Perhaps, more important than the car God drives, a bigger question to be asking might be why would Jesus go out into the desert? Defined precisely by lack of water and a lack of life, the desert is a wasteland. The idea of a desert is that there is absolutely nothing going on, nothing happening. And yet, in this overwhelming world, we all need spaces like this where we can go on retreat and escape from all that stuff that weighs us down. We all need such a space and time: a place without distractions to think, to do some heart work, a place to find inner peace… We need solitude. Ours is a world in desperate need of solitude. We need the desert and the solitude it affords us. While our problems always seem to follow us around, in a place of solitude we can gain some perspective on life. In a place of solitude, we can prepare ourselves for the challenges that we face. In a place of solitude, we are open to being ministered to. We can turn over our difficulties and place ourselves in the God’s loving hands. My guess is that Jesus knew he would be carrying a heavy cross and he needed a retreat to ready himself for the work of restoring the relationship between God and God’s people that Peter references in our 2nd reading today.
Many of us, however, can’t just drive out into the desert, and many of us can’t just drop everything we are doing and go on retreat for 40 days, but we do indeed have deserted places, places of solitude that are available in our lives. Here at Church might be a good place to enjoy that peace. You are always welcome here, and just so you know, the Church is open beyond the scheduled Mass times. Many people come into the Church or Chapel throughout the day, after work, or before some big happening in their life to pray and to find the peace that God gives. But there are other places to find solitude as well. I might sound crazy for saying this, but one of my favorite places of solitude is the bathroom because – hear me out – I know it is a universally recognized space with respected boundaries, and there I can close out everybody and everything around me to listen intently to the voices coming out of my own heart as I sit on the throne or take a shower in solitude. Speaking of which car God drives, some people find solitude in their vehicles. I remember a time amongst my extended family where there was a big quarrel and my cousin just couldn’t take it anymore. He got into his car and drove around for an hour because he needed the space and solitude that the interior of his car provided. He knew he needed to get away, both to think about what was happening and also to avoid inflicting his anger upon others. And when he was settled, he came back to celebrate his younger brother’s birthday and showed his appreciation for the family he loved. Our cars can become a great desert, as we turn off the radio and pray on the way to work, or the grocery store, or wherever we are going. There are many deserts around us that we can enter into to find some much needed solitude.
The desert beckons us, calls us. We need the desert and the solitude it affords us. But we go there for a purpose, not to become isolated but to reenergize ourselves to return to the covenants that we are a part of. Like Jesus who was driven out into desert, so too do we need to find our own desert for much needed solitude… but only to the extent that it renews us and strengthens us to come back. We can’t run away from our problems. Pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make them better. We have to come back to reality. We have to affirm and take up the mantel of responsibility for the relationships that we are a part of. That is what God has done for us. Yes, Jesus went out for a set period of time, but most importantly, our Gospel tells us, he came back to minister in Galilee and proclaim God’s Kingdom. In fact, most of his time in public life was spent in ministry and only occasionally would he return to the desert for renewal. Our Easter Season is deliberately longer than our Lenten Journey to remind us of this. So, let this be our prayer this Lent: ‘each year, O God, you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed.’ Thus, may we go forward in our relationships with the clarity and wholeheartedness such solitude affords. So, use this time of Lent as it is intended: indeed, to go out into the desert but ultimately to come back to God, to our own hearts, and to all our relationships with heart and mind renewed.