Every First Sunday of Lent we hear of Jesus being driven to the desert by the Holy Spirit. This occurs immediately after being baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The heavens open and the Voice of God declares: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
In the desert, Jesus discerns who he is, how he is called to use his power, and how he will live his life.
We ourselves often find temptation in our own personal deserts. We forget our own identity as beloved children of God. We seek to fill our longings for God’s love and God’s mission with tainted visions resulting in the manipulation of our God given talents and we become advantageous of God’s people.
“If you believe that you are God’s blessed one; Why is your life so empty? Why do you hunger? Why are you longing?” We must remind ourselves that things do not make us who we are. We can be empty and still be God’s blessed ones! Being blessed and coming to know who one is has nothing to do with how full or empty one’s life is at a given moment. It is in our own deserts that we are often called to remember who we belong to and how we are called to live proclaiming the glory of God.
I recently finished reading The Alchemist, by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho and it reminded me of the many university students I am privileged to journey with. In the story, a young man, Santiago, is in search for his “Personal Legend.” As a former seminarian, who is now a shepherd, he longs for more and after having a recurring dream of finding a treasure near the Egyptian Pyramids, he begins to consult the voices of the world.
A fortune-teller encourages him to follow his dream, a king tells him to sell his sheep, and a “friend” convinces him to hand over his money in exchange to guide Santiago to the pyramids. This friend betrays him and takes all his money, leaving him stranded in a foreign country.
Feeling the emptiness and betrayals of the world, Santiago listens to an inner voice which leads him to work for a crystal merchant to regain the money he has lost. The boy eventually meets others who help him on his journey. He falls in love and the woman promises to marry him only after he completes his journey. The boy then encounters a wise alchemist who helps him see and understand who he has become through his journey. The alchemist teaches him to realize his true self by encouraging him to communicate with the Creator of the World. Together they risk a journey through the territory of warring tribes where Santiago demonstrates his oneness with “the Soul of the World.” He discovers that the “treasure” he sought all along was in the ruined church where he had his original dream, yet the journey is what shaped him and formed him into the person he is now.
It is in our own deserts that we are often called to remember whose we are and how we are called to live. It is in our own deserts that we must allow and surrender to our own “alchemist” to help us remember that we are called to become the glory of God – to demonstrate God’s love through God’s mission to all of God’s people.