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Gaudete Sunday. Rejoice in the Desert!

Today is Gaudete Sunday, which means Rejoice!  If you have an advent wreath, you’ll notice that while the other three Sundays of Advent have purple candles, today’s candle is rose pink.  This is the color of joy!  Of Rejoicing!

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Today’s first reading tells why we should rejoice.  We begin in the desert.  I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the desert of Southern California in July 2009.  As the picture reflects, it is barren.  The plant life is sparse and looks nearly dead.  And the desert is full of hazards.  Be carefully lifting anything.  There might be a snake hiding underneath!  Or black widows!

When I was there, it got up to 119°! It was HOT with no shade.  But I understand that, on the very rare times when it does rain, the desert just explodes with blossoms!  Like here!

Judean Desert in bloom

This is the promise of the first reading from Isaiah:

The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.

Today, you may feel like you’re in a desert.  Like everything around you is dying and the sun itself is beating down on you, draining you of energy.  Rejoice!  God promises better!  This desert will bloom with abundant flowers!

When I was in the desert of California, I learned of one of its denizens, the desert tortoise.  The desert tortoise is a protected species.  We had to be sure to stay on the marked roads and not drive into the desert for fear of driving over one of their burrows and killing them or destroying their nests.  In fact, if we saw one on the road, we were to leave it alone.  I am told that if you sneak up on one and startle it, the desert tortoise will evacuate its bladder.  This is a deadly condition for the tortoise because they recycle their urine.  They go months or years between drinks of water.  Because of this, they have to conserve what fluids they have.

This is an example of how the life in the desert has adapted to the harsh environment.

Although most of us do not live in a desert, many of us experience a spiritual dryness.  Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta describes the spiritual desert she experienced throughout her life.  These were times when Mother Theresa didn’t feel God’s presence.  She couldn’t sense Him.  And I know that there are times when I sometimes don’t feel the fruits of praying, when it doesn’t seem to pay off.

What did Mother Theresa do in those times?  She continued to pray.  She continued to love.  She continued to serve.  She persevered.

This desert often appears in my personal life and my relationship.  Sometimes I don’t feel like being nice to people who snap at me.  I don’t feel the spiritual strength to smile, or help.

Mother Theresa had a wonderful saying that addresses those times when you might not feel the presence of God, when you might not feel like being nice, or helpful.  It goes like this:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

So when you find yourself in a spiritual desert, think of Blessed Theresa of Calcutta.  If you don’t feel like praying, just do it.

Also, remember the desert tortoise, who stores its water because it never knows when it will take its next drink.  Like the tortoise, store up memories of when God’s love was obvious to you, when things went well, when you recognized your blessings.

And finally, remember God’s promise.  While your soul may feel dry as the parched desert, God promises that it will “bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.”

Think pink.  Think rejoice!


A Profound Conversion

On this Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent, I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

After Solomon’s reign, Israel splits into two kingdoms and then suffers through several centuries of conquest by foreigners, destruction of its cities and infrastructure, captivity and exile of its people.

Whatever happened to God’s promise to David?!

“Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.”  2 Samuel 7:16.

Sure, the people turned from God, disobeyed Him, worshiped other gods, broke every commandment.  But didn’t God promise that David’s house would last forever?  Didn’t He promise of David’s son “I will establish his royal throne forever?”

God gives some insight into the centuries of suffering when He couples His dynastic promise with a fatherly admonition:

If he does wrong, I will reprove him with a human rod and with human punishments.”  2 Samuel 7:14.

God provides Israel—His chosen people—these years of suffering so they can fully prepare for the arrival of their (and our) deliverer.  He knows they are not ready for the fullness of His promise—His Son—and so He “reproves” them and—at the same time—prepares them for the coming of the Messiah.

This concept reminds me of my journey through Lent.  Lent is a season of preparation, a season to put myself into the proper spirit and state of mind to fully celebrate Easter.  Just as God used those centuries to prepare His people for the coming of His Son, I must seek God’s grace to use these 40 days of Lent so that I can better prepare myself to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection.

The typical formula for Lenten preparations involves three distinct elements:  fasting, special prayer and alms-giving.  Each of these areas requires some measure of sacrifice.  Fasting is an overt denial of self.  Special prayer requires me to dig deeper into my prayer life, reach beyond my comfort level and draw closer to God.  Alms-giving requires I give of my blessings to others.

Ultimately, however, I find that while this sacrifice may involve a modicum of suffering, blessings I receive through the transformative experience far outweigh the sacrifice.

Day 39-1

Sometimes, it may seem that fasting is for naught.  I might feel like I am speaking to myself in prayer.  And my “alms-giving” might appear to go to the wrong people.  Perhaps this is my exile, my Babylonian Captivity.  In those times I must remember that even Blessed Mother Theresa suffered a spiritual desert.  I must remind myself that these spiritual exercises will strengthen me and my faith.
Day 39-2

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