By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
In the Scriptures the desert is seen as a place of encounter, a place where people connect with God. The people of Israel encountered God in the desert, and he provided them with manna from heaven. In the desert God made a covenant with them, to be their God and make them his people (Exo. 6:7). At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the gospel explains that the Spirit led him into the desert, where he fasted for forty days to have an encounter with God as he began his mission. In the desert he was tempted by Satan but triumphed (Lk. 4:1-13). John the Baptist invited the people to the desert to have an encounter with God, to change their lives, to repent of their sins, and to abandon themselves to God (Mk. 1:1-11). This desert experience is an invitation to self-emptying.
In the stories of encounter with God in the desert we always find some kind of abandonment, a giving up of something. The people of Israel had to give up their stay in Egypt in order to journey with God in the desert. It was beneficial, but it was a difficult abandonment. They were happy to leave Egypt, but they grumbled about being allowed to be hungry and perhaps die in the desert.
At one time they even complained to Moses, asking why he didn’t just leave them in Egypt, since they would at least have food there. But for them to have a true encounter with God they had to look forward — toward God — not backward to Egypt. They had to give up Egypt in order to have a new life of encounter with God. Similarly, Jesus had to give up his desire for food and fast for forty days so that he could have that special time of encounter with God as he prepared to begin his ministry. What do you have to give up in order to encounter God?
To have an encounter with God we must empty ourselves to allow God to fill us. For us, the followers of Christ today, going into the desert may not be going into a physical desert as the people of Israel did in the biblical times; we don’t have to go into a physical desert to encounter God. But we are invited to enter into a spiritual desert to encounter God. Such a spiritual desert allows God to come into our hearts, to find us and transform us into the people he wants us to be. For God to find us, we need to develop that quality of abandonment, to empty ourselves for him. This means letting go of our old ways of life, and of those things that separate us from God. This involves going into our hearts to search our consciences and acknowledge those areas where we are not in communion with God. For God to find us, we have to abandon those areas, shed the burden and become light, and then stay open to welcoming his presence in us.
Father Jacob Dankasa is pastoral administrator of Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving.