This first withdrawal of Jesus to a place of stillness was but the beginning of a life-long habit. At key moments throughout His life, the Son of Man retreated into the solitude (cf. Mt. 14:23-24; Mt. 26:36, 42, 44; Mk. 1:35; Lk. 6:12; Lk. 9:28); there in the stillness of the wilderness, He communed with His Heavenly Father, and drew from Him the strength and the fortitude needed to fulfill His mission. In so doing, Our Lord teaches us much about conforming our lives to the Father’s will.
In the early centuries of Church history, many holy men followed the pattern set by Jesus. For weeks or years -- a special few for a lifetime -- they went to the wilderness to detach themselves from the distractions of the world and enter the solitude of the heart. In the austere silence of the desert and amplified stillness of the soul, they sought communion with God: a continuous awareness of His presence about them, among them, and in them. Through this union, they yearned to make the whole of their being a conduit of the Father’s love, a receptive channel through which divine charity could flow into the lives of others.
The “desert fathers,” as they came to be known, knew that the call to the desert was a radical call. The desert would allow for no pretense or disguise, no haughtiness or pride, no shortcut or delusion. It was a call to radical simplicity and radical integrity. It was a call to hard living, self- restraint, and unyielding mortification. It was a call to fortitude and steadfastness, perseverance and strength. It was a call to vigilance, and a call to honesty, truth, and humility. The wilderness offered no hiding place. All lay bare and exposed in the barren desert.
For the desert dwellers, the external perils of the wilderness were mirrors of their interior struggles. The barren environment represented man’s impoverished condition and need for a savior. The wild beasts were reminders of unbridled passions and heinous sin. And the restless spirits who roamed the arid wasteland were Satan’s pawns, tormenting and tempting the beleaguered and the unaware.
Yes, the desert offered countless opportunities to develop virtue while wresting vice. And, when God’s grace met with man’s cooperation, the desert became the furnace in which fire-tried holiness was forged.
The desert experience, in all its severity and asceticism, was meant to do one thing and one thing alone: to bring all aspects of one’s life into union with God in Christ. This Lent, how is God calling you to bring "all aspects of [your] life into union" with Him?
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