Go out into the desert, away from the city. Away from the shopping mall. Away from TV and the Internet. As you get farther away, you find your cell phone loses its signal.
Now, its quiet and empty. There’s nobody around. What do you do?
When the TV and the Internet aren’t blaring at you; when your family, your boss, your teacher, your coworkers, your friends, aren’t talking to you; and you don’t have anyone to talk to…
Whom do you talk to?
John the Baptist went out into the desert because he was hungry and thirsty—not for the noise and the stuff of the city—but for God. John found God in the desert—and so will you.
You and I find God when we’re hungry and thirsty. St. Augustine once said, God has gifts to give us, but our hands are full—we can’t receive them. Sometimes we need them to be empty, so we can receive his gifts.
Sometimes we need to be hungry and thirsty. This is the wisdom of the Church’s ancient tradition of fasting and self-denial—during Lent, on Fridays, giving up meat—no, it’s not mandatory any longer, but the Church still recommends doing without meat as a form of penance, which we are obliged to do, every Friday, to recall what Jesus did for us.
This is why we fast from all food—even gum and mints!—for an hour before receiving the Eucharist (which means about when we leave home, so it’s not that hard). But if we are a little hungry when we come to receive the Eucharist, that’s our bodies teaching our souls.
The desert means realizing how small we really are—we sometimes fool ourselves and think we’re in control, but we’re not—and how big the world around us really is; and that God is even bigger. The desert teaches us to admit we need to rely on him.
But we get busy and focus on the ordinary things of life, and—we don’t mean to do it, but God can get pushed to the periphery. But if we get in the habit of thinking we can do it without relying on him, we live a shadow-life.
We’re like a radio: well made, all the parts fit together, and work—but if not turned on, what’s its purpose? Only when we’re turned on, and tuned in to God, will we make beautiful music that will fill the room and touch others.
So—how do you and I “go to the desert”?
Go on retreat. If you haven’t ever gone on retreat, or its been awhile, go! An annual retreat may be hard to do, hard to schedule, but it helps us deepen our life. A couple of months ago, I went on retreat with some men of the parish, for a weekend. It was hard for me to fit it in; it was hard for them. But we have to make it happen.
If you’ve never gone on retreat, and you don’t know what to do, give me a call, I’ll help you! Don’t worry—nothing bad will happen to you! A silent retreat can be a daunting thing; it can feel odd sitting across from someone at a lunch table, and not talking. But in that silence, there’s a lot of conversation with God.
You and I can go to the desert every day in prayer. We have lots of priorities in our lives. If you’re married, your spouse certainly should be a priority. Your children, certainly, deserve your time and attention. Work, school; they all demand our attention, rightly so. It’s hard. It happens to me. I spend a lot of time in the office, every week. Doing paperwork isn’t one of my favorite things; but our staff is glad I show up to sign paychecks! Aren’t you glad I paid the gas bill this month. These things are important, but they aren’t why I became a priest.
We need time every day to be alone with God—alone means being alone! The good news is, we get all the benefit! God needs nothing from us; God gives himself to us in that prayer.
You and I go to the desert when we go to the sacrament of reconciliation. In the confessional is a fountain of grace, and we can drink from it all we want, and it’s free! Always available! We have confessions on Wednesday evenings down in the chapel, on Saturday mornings, and always by appointment. Call me, call Father Ang, we’ll be happy to meet with you. (Although at 3 AM, I may not be quite so happy!)
Sometimes people say, “I only go when I commit a really big sin.” That’s like saying, I only take a shower when I’m really dirty—how about a shower every few months—how does that sound? Instead, go often, and grow deeper in the Lord.
You and I go to the desert in our acts of penance and self-denial.
One way we can go to the desert—and this is hard for me!—is by silencing our tongue. Saying less means we hear more.
And we can go to the desert anytime we want by meeting Jesus in our chapel. Our Lord is always available, waiting for us: 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year! We never close! And an extra day in leap years!
John went to the desert and he found his calling, what God had for him. He found a deeper, richer life. That’s why he ate locusts—the ordinary things didn’t matter to him. He hungered for more.
And people saw that! And they wanted what he had.
Think about it. Here’s this crackpot—and you know that’s what they said! Here’s this fellow, eating locusts—that’s pretty odd! Wearing camel’s hair—that’s odd! But the Gospel said, “all the inhabitants of Jerusalem” came out to see him! Imagine some fellow outside New York City doing something like this—and all eight million folks come out from the city to see him?
Maybe they came out just to see; but it says they repented of their sins. They were changed!
They came out to have what he had—and they will do the same for you and me!
People will notice. They watch, they want to see if we’re genuine. But if they see that we are, that we’re really committed, they’ll come to us as they did to John the Baptist.
You and I live in the best-fed society in human history, yet people are hungry for the truth—starving!—for what has meaning, for what will last!
And you and I have it! If they see it in us, they will want it.
Come to the desert.
(Note: for this homily, I didn't have a text, but rather, notes, on which I expanded. This is approximately what I preached.)