By Nicole Shirilla

Grace to Enter the Desert

“So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.” Hosea 2:14

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit a very dear friend who has recently entered into religious life with the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, a community of Franciscan and Charismatic Sisters living deep in the heart of the desert lands of Texas. I knew before my arrival that I was headed to the desert, but the reality struck profoundly as I was driven the 50 miles or so from Amarillo to the square mile of earth known as Prayer Town. Taking in the dry and dusty expanse of land around me as we approached the convent, I asked Sister Rita, who had picked me up from the airport, how often it rains. “Oh, we pray for the rain,” she said. “And when it comes, the desert comes to life.”

My thoughts turned to the paradox of the desert and the promise of Lent.

I thought of Jesus, who after his baptism and before beginning his public ministry went into the desert for forty days of fasting and prayer. At the end of this time he confronted three temptations:

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

“All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you.’”

How close to home these temptations hit. How often and real in this world are the subtle (or not so subtle) temptations to entertain — even momentarily — the notion that God is not enough. Fueled by deep fears of loneliness and insignificance, the smallest seeds of doubt planted by this lie can spiral into confusion and despair as the temptation grows to seek consolation on our own terms.

During Lent, we are beckoned to the desert to confront the temptation that God is not enough. This is not a form of punishment, but a gift. As Sister Rita looked out to the desert lands and spoke with joy of how the first drops of water bring such abundant life, I knew that she was talking more about the reality of our own hearts than the land before us. This feeling was confirmed when I met the rest of her community — women full of joy, having found the “pearl of great price” and the life abundant that awaits those who give their lives to purchase it. By earthly standards they have made ultimate sacrifices — the community includes a former orchestra director, a former professional dancer, and a former aspiring college professor, to name a few — but in reality they know the joy that I had to see to believe of those who belong to God alone.

In the homily for the mass when the newest Sister professed her vows, the priest shared Pope Benedict XVI’s words that the cloister is a “spiritual oasis… reminding the world of the most important, in the end, the only decisive thing: that there is an ultimate reason why life is worth living: God and his unfathomable love.”

Although all are not called to the cloister, through baptism all who follow Christ are called to holiness. While the specifics of this calling will manifest differently in each of our lives, each unique vocation calls us to be a living sign of God’s love in this world through a radical embrace of the truth that God is enough. In fact, he is more than enough. He is life eternal and love unconditional.

In this season of Lent, through prayer, sacrifice, charity, and penance, I pray that we all may have the grace to enter the desert of our hearts so that when the waters of new life are sprinkled at Easter, we may become an oasis of life in the desert of this world.

This reflection was originally posted at the ACE Fellowship e-newsletter site.

About the Author

Nicole Shirilla is a second year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Prior to entering medical school, she was a high school religion teacher and the Assistant Director of the Notre Dame Vocation Initiative. She has her BA and MEd from the University of Notre Dame.

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