Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly (Joel)

In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea*[and] saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  It was of him that the prophet Isaiah  had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.’”

…Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by Him….  After Jesus was baptized, He came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for Him], and He saw the Spirit of God descending on Him like a dove …And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son,*with Whom I am well pleased.”….  Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted there for forty days and forty nights.   (Matthew)

The first reading gives us the image and sound of a trumpet sounding. Know that it is a repentance melody of challenge, and a leading out into the desert song. The desert is a place for your Lenten self-denial.  It’s not a literal desert, unless you want to go find one.  It’s a desert, instead, from one’s routines and life as usual, with a no to indulgent pleasures and sinful inclinations. It a trumpet blast to your being too comfortable in your faith.  I have an old Herb Alpert tape of trumpet songs for use for Olympics events.  The trumpet plays a musical challenge to do well and rise up to one’s call or to one’s better self. (I use it to get psyched to exercise, and overcome my laziness or avoidance of the discipline.

I took an alternative gospel for Ash Wednesday in the liturgy (instead of the usual one of the three-fold when you fast/pray/ give alms); I picked the gospel which is of Jesus being led into the wilderness desert by the Holy Spirit. In this early-on moment in Matthew’s version of our Lord’s ministry, Jesus was put into a forty day and night test.  If it seems like it was a challenging time to Jesus, then you are right.  It was!  Yet Jesus would not ask of us what He was not willing to take on Himself, even dealing with things on His human level. During this desert time Jesus proved his love for his Father was stronger than everything else.  He wants us to learn some same lessons in our 2023 desert, though I dare not think a one-on-one with the devil, as it was for Jesus.  Yet our Lent should not look to be a comfortable 40 days ahead, but of a challenge, and our love for Jesus should want to draw closer to God in this season, looking for anything in our lives that we might need to overcome, either from the flesh, from wiles of the devil, or from this broken world. We pray for the overcoming spirit to give us ways closer to God and less caught up in sin or self.

Jesus in the desert is our model during Lent. If Jesus had given in to any temptation of the devil, He would have wrecked his Father’s plans. When we give in to temptation we can nearly wreck God’s plans for us, except that God keeps providing ways to Him by His Mercy.

Sin separates us from what God intends for us. Sin separates us from God. It has been like that since the first sin, in the Garden of Eden.  As a result of that sin, Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden.

Sin separates us from Jesus. But our love for Jesus and His coming into our lives has built a bridge back. God has brought the bridge right to our shores, and we have been walking forward to glory on that straight and narrow way.

There is a lot of walking ahead to make it across this bridge of Jesus. Our Catholic faith impels us to want to overcome sin during Lent so that we will not let ourselves be out of intimacy with Him. Our love for Jesus impels us to take Lent seriously so that at the end of Lent we will be closer to Jesus. Do you love Jesus enough to let Him fix whatever in your life is still in need of His Spirit’s work? Lent is the time to do it.

Do we love Jesus enough to take Lent seriously so that at the end of Lent we can say we gave up this sin or overcame that sinful inclination so that we could be closer Jesus? Do we love Jesus enough so that when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at the end of Lent we can also celebrate Jesus’ new life in us because we took more steps to give ourselves more over to holiness and less to our gullibility to sin? Do we love Jesus more than anything? Lent is the time to draw closer to Jesus.

Without God, all we end up is as dust and bones, or as dust in the wind, or as a heap of ashes on a pyre of something consumed up.  Or as a carcas in the desert, of a beast that didn’t make it through the wasteland.  Those images I take from songs…

With God, we have life eternal, resurrection, hope, new life, love completed, beauty unfolding before Him.  As Isaiah paints the picture: To all who mourn in Israel he will give: “beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness.”

He gives beauty for ashes, that’s a nice exchange.


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