There is a column in one of the Sunday papers entitled “The Good Life”. It’s a very appealing title. After all, who doesn’t want the good life, the flourishing life? On reading this column however, I get the impression that the good life is all about having lots of amazing and exciting experiences. Therefore what’s put before you is a list of wonderful places to travel and shows to go to. Then there is a catalogue of what else is on in town, such as art displays, movies, galleries and the like. Living the good life then is about being a culture vulture, ‘been there and done that’, and of course getting the tee shirt. On the other hand, if you’re not into all of this, something is wrong and you’re missing out on this so-called good life.
If lots of exciting experiences are the measure of the good life, then what of Jesus who spent forty days in the bleak and lonely landscape of the desert? Not much chance of being a culture vulture there. The desert is striking for its sheer aridness. There is no vegetation, no bird life, a few lizards and almost no animals – just sand and loneliness as far as the eye can see. But for Jesus the good life is not about many and varied experiences, but rather about the quality and depth of one’s own personal experience. His one great passion was his Father and the desert is the place where he can entertain his Father’s voice in silence and solitude. His God was his all. Cardinal Newman reiterated this many centuries later when he said: ‘the very thought of God is enough for me!’
The Council Fathers meeting at Vatican II half a century ago were at pains to understand how to be a Church in the modern world. They speak of us being ‘stricken with wonder at our own discoveries and power’ (GS 3) and yet at the same time we are burdened down with uneasiness’ (GS 4). This is even truer today where our technological advances have advanced in leaps and bounds, but sadly there is no parallel spiritual progress. If anything there is more unease and distress in our human hearts than ever before.
Pope Francis says we are too easily taken in by today’s consumerist mentality and that is one of the chief causes of our distress. “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”(Ev G 2)
You’ll not be surprised to hear that the very rich have their problems too and one of them is clutter. They buy so many things that seemed attractive at the time and soon after most of it ends up as clutter in the basement. In fact there is a company in America that helps to relieve the rich of their clutter and give it to the poor. Rich or not our hearts can be full of clutter so much so that, as the Pope says, there is no longer room for others in our hearts and the quiet joy of God’s love is no longer felt.
There is no clutter in the desert and it’s important that we find our own personal desert space so as to be with our God and feel the quiet joy of God’s love for us. Our personal desert can be as simple as a quiet corner in our room with a candle, a Bible and all phones off. This is all the more crucial in today’s world where so many people are bombarded day and night with the roar of city traffic and the blare of electronic music. We need to create a time and a space to nurture our spiritual lives. Lent is such a time.
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert and he remained there for forty days. Like Jesus, we too are children of the desert. So let us allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit out into the desert this Lent where we can confront the demons that haunt our lives, and like him and with his help, triumph over them. There too we can be freed from so much vainglory, worldly power, vanity, and false successes that our hearts can unconsciously and so easily aspire to. That is the freedom, dignity, and gift that is offered in today’s gospel. And that too is the agenda of the good life where love of God and love of neighbour becomes our passion.
Sunday, 22nd February 2015