Perhaps more than any other year, we enter this Lenten season with a cloud of darkness hovering over our country.
There is bitterness and acrimony everywhere, and the bloodthirsty calls for vengeance, rather than justice, sound alarm bells in a population precariously perched on the precipice of despair.
Almost without being aware of it, we are now finding ourselves losing our capacity to feel compassion at the outcry of the poor, to weep for other people’s pain, and to feel a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.
This is our desert experience.
Jesus’ temptations in the desert are reflected in many of the events that have unfolded before us in the last few weeks, and sadly, in the responses of many of the principal players. They are the temptation to be relevant, the temptation to be popular by doing something remarkable, and the temptation to be powerful in leadership, to lead rather than be led.
There are many amongst us who have succumbed to these temptations, with consequences that have significantly eroded the trust placed in our national institutions.
Today, the cries for the blood of Andrea Bharatt’s killers have been replaced by the cries for the heads of those responsible for the death of two citizens, still presumably innocent, whilst in the custody of those who took an oath to protect and serve.
This is their desert experience too.
The truth is that there is very little difference between our characterisation of some of our flawed citizens as cockroaches that need to be stepped upon, and our depiction of women as weak prey to be devoured by those who have weaponised God’s gift of reproduction.
Today, the Church must stand equally with the cockroaches and the steppers, with the weak and the weaponised, and say God’s mercy demands a recalibration of our respective positions.
No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it, and this Church of ours, this field hospital for the sick, is the place where everyone is welcomed and no one is rejected.
Jesus emerged stronger from His desert experience, and with a clearer vision of His own mission, because He placed His entire reliance on His Father. The challenge for us in this Lenten season is to determine how we will continue to resist these temptations, and on whom we will rely.
It is a challenge for us as Catholics to continue to be the angels ministering to our brothers and sisters who find themselves, like us too, in this desert of despair.
The challenge is for all of us to become wounded healers, preaching a gospel of repentance and mercy, of salvation and grace.
The challenge for us in this Lenten period is to make our voices heard amidst the braying of the wild beasts, proclaiming instead a civilisation of love.
There is no escaping this desert, but forty days from now, we will emerge. Hopefully, we too would have been made stronger and our mission made clearer. We are, after all, an Easter people.