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February 14, 2016 – First Sunday of Lent

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Spiritual Boot Camp

On February 1, I set out on a “28 day clean eating challenge” so that I could get “fit & thin” for my upcoming wedding (have look good in my dress!) It’s a 28 day “cleanse” from gluten, dairy, sugar, non-organic anything, and worst of all, coffee. I’m two weeks in, and I’m happy to report I haven’t died yet (although my fiancé has been the victim of a few “hangry” attacks when I’m craving just one slice of delicious bread). In all honesty, going “without” some of the things I’m used to eating hasn’t been as bad as I thought…yes, I miss cheese and I really want a cup of coffee when I wake up in the morning. But I’m finding that I’m making healthier choices to replace those items I’m craving. Instead of chowing down on tortilla chips and salsa, I’ll have carrots and hummus. Instead of a big cup of coffee with cream and sugar, I’ll have water with lemon. I’m not starving myself or dying in any way – I’m just being challenged to make better decisions with food over the course of this month so that, in the long run, I’m a healthier, fit person who makes good choices all the time. Clearly the idea to do something like this comes from the Gospel on this first Sunday of Lent…

Today, we read that Jesus goes into the desert for forty days for one specific reason: to be tempted. Perhaps that confuses us: why would Jesus go there just to be tempted. That seems a bit counter productive? That’d be like me walking into a bakery for lunch and trying to limit myself to just eating my lettuce-turkey wrap. It’d be pure torture! But we sometimes forget one key thing when we read that Jesus goes to the desert: the Holy Spirit filled Him and he was led there on purpose. Jesus went to the desert specifically so that He could put Himself in temptation’s path. Jesus was being sent to spiritual boot camp. For forty days He wouldn’t eat anything, relying solely upon His union and communication with His Father. For forty days He would contemplate and meditate and pray about His upcoming mission. For forty days he would fix His eyes only upon the Lord, and in so doing, be ready for the next three years. Of course, by taking on such a challenge, He will be met by temptation, and this is exactly what the Spirit wanted for Jesus.

By going into the desert, Jesus gives us an example of how we can “live Lent” to the fullest. We too can be led away from our worldly desires, our earthly possessions, and our creature comforts that so often distract us from what is most important: communion and intimacy with the Lord. Just like Jesus is called to confront the temptations of physical nourishment, earthly power, and widespread popularity in the desert, during Lent we are called to face our own temptations too. Over the next forty days, we will each be asked to give something up, do something out of charity, and spend time in prayer with the Lord. None of that will be easy, and it’s not supposed to be! Jesus didn’t go into the desert, led by the Spirit, for a spiritual vacation! He went into the desert to be fortified, strengthened, and tested so that He would be ready for three years of preaching, healing, and sacrificing. And that’s exactly what happens to us during Lent as well. The same way Christ was prepared in the desert for the most important years of His life is the same way Lent prepares us for the most important days of our year: the Sacred Triduum, when we celebrate Christ’s life-giving sacrifice on the Cross and His glorious Resurrection.

While we may normally secretly dread Lent because of all the new “demands” that are being placed upon us, what if this year we joyfully entered Lent and saw it as a time for spiritual renewal and training. What if we embraced our sacrifices with a smile? What if we joyfully gave of what we have without grumbling? What if we saw daily prayer not as a requirement, but more as an opportunity to “be still and know that He is God”? What if we allowed ourselves to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” and be led out into the desert so that we can endure our own sort of spiritual boot camp? While it may be a challenge now, in the long run, we’ll be spiritually healthier, holier, and maybe even happier people.

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