We see a hint of the future here. The reign of God will be opposed, as is evidenced by the “handing over” of John. Soon Jesus will begin speaking about His own "handing over," but the disciples never seem to want to listen to that. They are not aware, or they forget, that this conflict is the prelude to the whole contest. All too soon, Jesus himself will targeted for this "handing over."
Jesus had to be prepared for this contest, so the "Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him."
The wilderness is reputed to be the home of darkness and disorder, and wild beasts are symbols of the foreign, the alien and the strange; thus, it is in the very home of evil that evil is overcome! It is not by being taken away from evil that evil is conquered. It is mastered in the midst of the disorder and the darkness, and the very strange bestial forms become symbols of the new age. In the Messianic new age, these evil, bestial forces will have no power. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. [i]
Jesus enters into Galilee with great confidence, not beaten down by the desert experience, but strong and direct in his proclamation of the Gospel. The saints and ascetics want us to rise from our deserts with the same confidence. Temptation will not defeat us if we depend with ever growing confidence on the Redeemer.
We profess to be followers of Christ. We profess to be in Him; to be the elect. Experience has taught us, as it taught the early disciples, that we will be faced with disappointments, disagreements and even defeat. We enter into spring by proclaiming that there will be an end to this winter of defeat, just as there was an end to Jesus' forty days in the desert. The temptations and the tests will pass. We can expect no more than Jesus received. We know that as followers of Christ, at the bare minimum, we will be handed over to the court of public opinion.
But we enter into this struggle nonetheless, because we are in Jesus. And it is time to face the choice again: to whom does our life belong? Will we be victim of every defeat and disappointment or will our lives be a sign of new birth into this Christ who is victorious over every test, even death itself. (“… the covenant that is between God and us and every living creature....; and the waters shall never again become a [sign of a] flood to destroy all flesh."[ii]
We do not like to be in trouble. The desert is a lonely place. We despise difficulties, and we abhor struggle and hardship. There has to be some medicine for this headache. There needs to be found some escape. Cannot there be an easier way than this? We fill our lives with so much activity, noise, entertainment, possessions, anything to avoid the pains and the difficulties of life. Everything is designed to give us relief and to make our lives easier. (How do you spell relief?)
Love is not easy (and easy love never endures). To truly love, one must give of oneself, letting go of demands, judgments, opinions and expectations. We struggle to do this, but this is precisely who Jesus is and what Jesus does.
We do not imagine a God who struggles. The Arians and Nestorians of old could not imagine a God who dies, so of course, they believed such a one could not be God. We find it difficult to be with Jesus when He is in trouble, but He struggles to find a way in to our hearts, and our distance from Him troubles Him.
He faces the struggle directly. He does not shrink away. He shows us the tools He used to stand against the winds and shadows of this world. In the face of evil, He holds up the word of God. This is not just a collection of words or a quoting of scripture in the wind, but an immersion in the truth that there is more to life than bread, and that serving God benefits us with His grace. The Word of God here is the expression of a living, direct, tangible, personal, human, intimate relationship with God.
It is therefore the time to be handed over to the struggle. Jesus had to be prepared for this contest, so why do we think we can or should avoid it? He calls us to the desert to face our struggles directly; emboldened by His confidence, armed with His word and strengthened and nourished by His body and blood. Head into the desert! There may be darkness and little felt consolation but know that the angels are ministering to you as well.
As a priest, I hear lots of confessions. One of the sins that is increasingly confessed is an addiction to pornography and self-abuse. In this sex-obsessed society, many are caught in this as it is so readily available and there is so much opportunity. Once hooked, there seems little possibility that the addiction might be overcome. When tired or lonely, there seems to be an overwhelming urge or trigger that says the person deserves to feel better or to be cared for. There is no felt need to be in struggle here. The draw is so powerful that soon, the individual is acting out, but then feels ashamed and worthless, but since confession is a few days away, there is no preventive to keep him/her from acting out multiple times, digging the hole of shame ever deeper.
Ancient ascetics and monks, when treating this illness, say that the malady needs a physical remedy as well as access to the spiritual armaments. The body must be involved in the repentance. This is where Adoration or the Rosary come in. In Adoration, you place your body in reverence before the Divine Presence and with the Rosary you are praying by hand.
Adoration is the direct opposite of pornography. In pornography, you are dealing with real people who have become objects. As objects, you are using them for your own gratification and it is impossible to do otherwise. You are prevented by the circumstance from having any relationship with them. Adoration is the opposite. The Host appears as an object but it is a real person, and you are not prevented from being in a relationship. It is not immediate gratification but calls for faith from the individual. It is a struggle of faith that enables one to experience from the Eucharist a care and love that is eternal. The struggle of faith is essential.
Life is meant to be a struggle. It is time for you to be handed over to this battle. It is more than a struggle. We are at war. The demons and the angels surround you much like the wild beasts surrounded Jesus in the desert and the angels ministered to him. If we go on in our life as if our principle goals are consolation, blessings, success, prestige, honor, possession, rest, relaxation, and our own sense of right and justice, we will fall asleep to the struggle and continue to acquiesce to each and every temptation.
We are not greater than our Master. He indeed is our Savior, so we must go where He goes, and do what He does, for He taught us how to conquer sin and gave us the means to do so. So, go to Confession regularly, and enter willingly and joyfully into the desert struggle. Life is meant to be a struggle.
[i] Isaiah 11:6