Sunday, February 14, 2016

First Sunday of Lent: From Loneliness to “Being With”

“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” - Lk 4:1

We never talk about loneliness; yet it is prevalent. More than ever, we are connected virtually through our devices, but we are dying from loneliness. It has become a raging epidemic in the American culture. It affects us all. It can paralyze us with fear and throw us into a maelstrom of activities, especially when we try to deny it. Despite conventional wisdom which judges that “it’s bad to feel alone; something must be wrong with you,” loneliness and its accompanying feelings can offer an opportunity.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus allows the Spirit to lead him into the desert. There, he faces his suffocating loneliness and its temptations. These temptations are existential; they visit us all: to rely to oneself alone, to lean on idols, and to test God. Yet, they are formative, preparing him to live out his life’s mission. Through his desert experience, he grew more radically dependent on God; he came to a deeper realization of who he was and who he was called to be – the Beloved called to reconcile others with God. It is telling that the Spirit that filled him at his baptism in the Jordan is the same one that led him into the Judean desert and guided him to Galilee to inaugurate his mission (Lk 4:14).

Perhaps we are not alone during the desert of our loneliness. Perhaps, they mark invitations to grow, to embrace this kind of suffering, integral to our formation in the spiritual life, particularly during Lent.

Like Jesus, when we allow ourselves to feel our loneliness and call out to God, something creative happens. Illusions are exposed and truths emerge, allowing us to stand with others who suffer their particular loneliness. And even though theirs and ours are not the same, solidarity is born. Compassion grows. Moreover, we come to know and love Jesus more intimately. Mysteriously, we grow in greater intimacy with ourselves, others, and Jesus. Our heart becomes more merciful, tender, and closer to the heart of God.

Embracing loneliness is easier said than done. It helps to simply voice our condition to good friends and support as well as call out to God as in today’s responsorial refrain: “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.” In doing so, we welcome the Spirit that has always been indwelling since our baptism.

Jesus, help us to enter our loneliness with you and cling to God. Help us to walk with another who may be experiencing loneliness today.

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