POMETTO: Entering the desert to discover love

March 8, 2022

(Photo by Pascal Deloche / Godong)

“Come to Know Love” is the theme for our upcoming Archdiocesan Young Adult Day of Service that will be held at St. Thomas More Catholic Church on March 26. This invitation to “Come to Know Love” is not just for the young, but it is a call to all of us as we begin a new Lenten journey.

It is no surprise that love is a central theme of our faith. It is who God is (1 John 4:8); it is how we are to act as Christians (1 Corinthians 13); it is the reason why Jesus came into the world (John 3:16) (See also Deus Caritas Est by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI). However, it may be a surprise to think of love as connected to Lent.

Lent is meant to be a time of sacrifice — a time in the desert. When I think of the desert, I don’t often think of love. Instead, the image of a desert conjures other words like hunger, thirst, dryness, heat, solitude and difficulty. However, throughout the history of our Church, many deserts have led people to discover love in new ways.

Take the Desert Fathers, for example. Just their name — Desert Fathers — makes them sound so austere and rigid. For those who may have forgotten, the Desert Fathers were among the first group of Christians in the early 300s AD to take themselves away from the world (into the desert) so that they could fully follow Christ. They are known for making a total renunciation of the world and for practicing extreme forms of asceticism such as strapping themselves to rocks and fasting for weeks at a time, according to Simon Tugwell, O.P., in “Ways of Imperfection.”

They did this to discover the fullness of what it means to be human in light of Christ. They thought that by denying themselves, as Christ did in His act of sacrifice on the cross, they would find the core of what God made us to be. What they discovered may surprise us.

The Desert Fathers learned through their rigorous, communal life that the heart of what it means to be human is in the virtue of humility and of fraternal charity for those around us. They discovered that those acts of asceticism and self-denial were useless without humility. One of the Desert Fathers said: “It is better to fail with humility than to succeed with pride.”

They also discovered that the heart of the Gospel message is found in the virtue of charity — love.

“The most important way to show fraternal charity was to refrain from interfering with other people, and especially to refrain from criticizing them,” according to Tugwell. The Desert Fathers also taught to be gentle with others — even in their weaknesses. “If I see that my brother has gone to sleep while in prayer, I will go and cradle his head in my lap.”

The Desert Fathers removed themselves from the world to discover what it means to be fully human in Christ. They discovered that the act of putting others first (humility) and caring for our fellow brothers and sisters (love) is at the heart of what it means to be fully human.

As we embark on another Lent, let us take a lesson from the Desert Fathers. Let us perform our acts of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving with a sense of humility. And let us be aware of ways we can avoid criticizing and instead offer love and support, even in what we perceive to be weakness in others. In this way, our Lent will help us each discover who God made us to be.

We will enter the desert and discover love in a new way. And for all the young adults out there (ages 18-39), please join us on March 26 for the Day of Service (available in English/Spanish). We will start the day with Mass, serve together with an organization called Rise Against Hunger, and then conclude the day with a talk and time in community. All the details are available online at: www.archgh.org/yaday. †

Angie Pometto is the director of the Office of Young Adult & Campus Ministry.