And so, it begins.
The gospel tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days and forty nights, and there He prayed, fasted, and was tempted. Why did He do this? This answer requires us to go back to the significant event that took place right before Jesus entered the desert: His holy baptism.
Jesus arrived at the banks of the Jordan River. As the Son of God, He had no sins to be cleansed of. And yet, He decided to plunge deep into the waters of baptism with us, fully identifying with every man broken by sin.
We see the heavens opened up for Him and the fire of the Holy Spirit descended from His Father. And then God the Father’s voice came down from Heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This identity of Jesus as the true Son is the key to unlocking the deep truths about human life.
Jesus’ Father in Heaven sees, hears, loves Him and gives Him everything.
At that very moment, the waters of baptism were made holy by the Son of God and opened a new path of intimacy for us with God. Thus, the sacred event of baptism finds new meaning in Jesus. It is raised from the baptism of water of Saint John the Baptist to a baptism “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).
In a real sense, we are baptized with Christ and in Christ, thus receiving a new identity as sons in the Son (see Galatians 4:6). Yes, my brother, your baptism was a moment in time when God chose to come and dwell in you and share His life with you. The heavens opened, and the Father’s voice proclaimed over you: “You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased!” The fire of the Holy Spirit conquered the wound of Original Sin and gave you new life in His Son, Jesus Christ
Our holy baptism in Jesus is the source of our identity as sons of God. My brother, the gift of our baptism is foundational to this deep truth about our identity.
This holy event does not stand alone for Jesus. After His baptism, the Holy Spirit took Him into the desert. Jesus made the waters holy, and He would also make the desert holy. Both places provide opportunities for Jesus to show us who He is and therefore who we are called to be.
The desert is a place of temptation, a place where one is stripped of all worldly comforts and consolations to receive the truth about his identity. Jesus is the beloved Son, and He entered the desert to go before us as the perfect example, to show us how to defend against the attacks on our sonship with the truth of His Sonship. Satan wanted to lure His heart away from the goodness of His Father to settle for worldly power and pleasure and fulfillment. Jesus, as the beloved Son, shows us how to face these temptations that we will inevitably face in the deserts of our own lives, holding fast to the truth with strength and courage.
Similar to His accepting baptism, Jesus didn’t need to go into the desert and face trial and temptation in order to receive His Sonship. After all, Jesus was a Son by nature, not by adoption. Nevertheless, He has made the desert holy as well. The desert is now the place where Jesus invites us to go, fortified by His presence, to pray, fast, and face the temptations of the world and once again receive the gift of who we are as sons of God.
He invites us to go to the place of poverty and surrender where we can ‘remember’ our baptismal gift of identity. We, too, are beloved sons, and we share a Father in Heaven who sees, hears, and loves us at every moment.
This identity unlocks the deepest truths of our lives. Remember this.
Friday After Ash Wednesday
Over the past four years, I have spent a lot of time in the Utah desert, guided by COR Expeditions, a group of professional wilderness guides.
As the formation director of our younger brothers, I have the privilege of inviting my spiritual sons to encounter Jesus in the desert. Now, that sounds kind of overly pious because this experience in the desert is probably one of the hardest and most grueling things we will ever experience, spanning twenty-one full days of external and internal intensive trials.
Externally, the days are full of intense high-risk activities such as backpacking, canyoneering, repelling, and rock climbing. The seventy-degree days are nice, but the cold nights get you, 4 especially when the temperature consistently dips below zero. Our food is simple, and the sleep is inadequate.
The ‘externals’ are designed to get you outside your comfort zone and push you to your limits. By design, we experience no comfort in the desert. As men, we only grow by being pushed to our limits and then breaking through.
Now, the internal struggles are a different animal. The external breakthroughs lead to the internal breakthroughs, breakthroughs of the heart. A lot of men can go to the desert and ‘do’ hard things for a short period of time, but it takes a certain kind of man to go on the ‘interior journey,’ a journey where he is invited to face himself, his weakness, his poverty, and his brokenness.
If you do it right, it only takes a few days in the desert until the intensity breaks you. But this kind of breaking is exactly where we want to be. In our weakness and our struggle, we are invited to remember who we are and to fight for the truth about our masculine hearts.
I love taking guys to the desert because of this moment of breakdown.
In their breakdown, Jesus happens. With Jesus, they face their weakness and brokenness, perhaps for the first time, and He invites them to remember who they are at their core. The invitation and remembering shift something in their hearts.
Jesus is ‘refashioning’ them and healing them from the inside out. They receive the truth that they are not defined by their abilities, gifts, wounds, or limitations. They realize that life holds more than seeking after pleasure and clinging to comfort. When they lose themselves, they find new life.
From this place, a desire is born in their hearts to be a new kind of man, to be a man for others. The reflection on the ‘external and internal’ struggles leads to a renewal of our identity as sons of God, our baptismal identity.
This renewal does not just accidentally happen in life. As men and as Christians, we need the desert. We need to leave the world of comfort and self-centeredness and to follow Jesus to the place where we have to let go of everything. Once we let go of ourselves and die to our former selves, then we can receive new life as sons of God.
This desert journey is for you. This ‘new life’ is for you. The next forty days are going to be intense, and if we do it right, it will hurt.
Remember the externals are important but only if they lead to a change in your heart. Only a real man can go on the journey of the heart. One of the joys of my life is to take my spiritual sons to the desert to remind them of who they are.
Are you in? Jesus is your guide.
Find More Lent Reflections
Let Fr. Mark-Mary be your guide this Lent as you enter into the desert with Jesus for forty days. The Lord is waiting for you and has prepared a place for you. He is going to help you remember your baptism and to activate the truth of when the heavens opened and you became an adopted son of the Father. The desert will be your identity experience. Here you are tried by fire, to be born of fire, and become fire. Order your book HERE.