desertReadings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91:1-2, 10-15; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

Imagine you are a contestant on JEOPARDY. You choose the category GEOGRAPHY and Alex Trebek gives you the prompt: “The first stop on the Lenten journey.” You answer: “The desert.” and you are correct. We are at the first Sunday of Lent and the place of destination is always the desert.

We read in today’s Gospel that Jesus, led by the Spirit, goes into the desert after he returns from the Jordan where he is called the Beloved Son. Can we put ourselves in Jesus’ heart and feel what he feels when he hears that? It is with that name resounding in his heart that Jesus goes into the desert for forty days. Somehow I want to think that we enter the Lenten journey knowing that we too are beloved.

So where is this desert? A different place and experience for each of us? The desert is the place where, without distractions, we can concentrate on what really matters as we return each year to what it means to be God’s beloved. The desert is a place of stillness and quiet—a place to look back and ahead and listen to what my heart is ready to hear. The temptations experienced by Jesus in the desert are our temptations. We are all tempted to power and success, to control people and things, to comfort and selfishness. Maybe the worst temptation is to forget that we are beloved.

Just as the Spirit was with Jesus in his desert experience, so too the Spirit will be with us. You may want to reread the first four chapters of Luke’s Gospel to reflect on how the Spirit leads faithful people—Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, John the Baptist, Jesus—through decisions, conversions and acceptance of God as the One who is in charge.

What are my memories of Lent over the years? For all the talk about “giving up” things, Lent is in the end an affair of the heart. The Spirit leads Jesus into the desert and the Spirit leads him out to his ministry of teaching and healing. This is the pattern for us as well. Lent is a personal experience: can I trust God’s healing love to mend the brokenness of my life? Lent is also a communal experience: how does the Year of Mercy call me to reach out to the daily reminders of broken spirits and lives? “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you hear what is sounding outside of you.” (Dag Hammarskjold, MARKINGS)

This year the first Sunday of Lent is also Valentine’s Day—a day associated with the heart and giving to those we love. So…an extra reason to experience what it means to be beloved. What invitations is God extending to me right now to start anew?

–Sister Dominica Rocchio, SC

Sr.-Dominica RocchioSr. Dominica, most recently a member of the Congregation’s leadership team, has ministered in education as a teacher, principal, and in administrative positions in the archdioceses of New York and Newark, NJ. In Newark, she served as Superintendent of Schools and Secretary for Education.