Lent is a special time for most of us Catholics. No matter how little we know about it, most of us know that it is a time of giving up something. The season reminds us of Jesus’ great sacrifice for us. His death on Good Friday reminds us of the world’s greatest act of love.

Much of the spirit of Lent owes to the forty days Jesus spent in the desert preparing for His ministry. When Jesus entered the desert, He left behind all the expectations of others, all the hopes, all the illusions. It was just Jesus and the Father. But in solitude, demons come.

We say He was tempted there, but a more accurate translation maybe “tested.” In this place, Jesus was offered the opportunity to be the wrong kind of messiah. But He rejected each possibility.

During Lent, we abstain from eating meat on Fridays, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Many of us perform acts of penance or mortification, such as giving up sweets, TV and the like. What is the connection to the desert? The desert experience is about deprivation. Many parts of the world experience it involuntarily. For many people, however, deprivation is a great evil, and to be avoided at all costs.

In deprivation, we discover that we are not all-powerful. We are slaves to our desires, to our bellies, to the opinions of others and to pleasure. We cannot bear pain, so we take a pill. We cannot bear growing old so we dye our hair. We replace our humanity with technology until there is little of ourselves left. Doing without can strip away some of the illusions and give us a glimpse of the truth.

Yes, we are people of illusions. We think we understand God, we think we know ourselves, and those around us. We plan our lives and we are shocked when these plans fall through. We impose our wills on God, our spouse, our children or our friends to satisfy our pride and our greed for control and money.

Jesus did not have such illusions like we do. In the desert, Jesus had no illusions of His own to face and destroy. He was tested for our sake, so we would know who He was not. He did not come to bribe us with earthly bread, nor astonish us with acts of invulnerability. He did not seek world domination nor command any army. He simply did the will of the Father.

During Lent, we have the opportunity to hear voices that are usually lost in the din of pleasure, meaningless talks and rumors to cover our inequities. We can enter into our own private desert and face our own demons. We can tear down our destructive pride, our craving for dominion and money and if we are brave, we can run through this desert and find our real selves. 

It is a nagging reality that we have missed something important; that somehow, we have been untrue to ourselves.  During Lent, we use abstinence as metaphors. In a very small way, they model the rejection of illusions about what we need, who we are, and who God is. We can try to make some efforts in discarding our chaotic desires in this life, for at death, we will no longer have a choice.

We all know that anything worthwhile demands a sacrifice. Each of us has experienced some sort of agony, scourging and crucifixion. It might be an agony of mental illness or a scourging of some physical illness. Some of us might be going through a crucifixion of a different kind.

Lent reminds us that Christ has already been where we are and if we identify our suffering with His, our cross will become lighter. There can be no Lent worthy of the name without a personal effort to make our lives better, with greater fidelity and decency to make reparation for our past mistakes through the practice of giving up something for Lent.

By Tim Pedrosa

Love is, above all, the gift of oneself.