Fr. Chad Wilhelm, Pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church

Two images from nature dominate the whole of Christian Lent: namely the Desert and Flooding!

In these images, we find the key for living the next six weeks deeply and fruitfully, as God is hoping we will live them.

The first image is that of the desert.

* After Jesus was baptized, but before he began his years of public ministry, St Mark tells us in his Gospel account, that the Spirit "drove Jesus out into the desert," where he experienced temptation.

* Throughout the Bible, the desert is often referred to a place of testing, where we experience our weakness and dependence on God.

* Water and food are hard to come by there, and the temperatures and emptiness are oppressive to both the body and the mind.

* The desert is a place where our illusions of self-sufficiency and comfort fade away.

* When we are in the desert, either literally or figuratively, we quickly realize that we need God.

* In other words, the desert is the opposite of the Garden of Eden.

* It is the place of suffering and hardship that sin has led us to.

* Both original sin and also our own personal sins have interfered with God's plan for our lives and for our world; they have put us in need of salvation.

The second image is flooding! The abundance of water that cleansed the world of sin at the time of Noah.

That ancient flood of water foreshadowed Christian baptism, the flood of grace that purifies our souls from sin, bringing new spiritual life into the desert of our sin-damaged hearts.

Sin and salvation: our sins, and Christ's loving sacrifice that leads to salvation.

These are the most fundamental aspects of the Christian Faith, and these are the themes that should fill our hearts and minds throughout the season of Lent.

We are still experiencing the painful isolation of people making an attempt to save the healthy from the sick Covid-19 patients. By December 2020 Covid-19 had sickened 85.5 million people worldwide (although 60 million recovered) causing 1.86 million deaths. Through the centuries, humankind has been beset by a myriad of illnesses, some of which have altered the course of history. For example, in 1348 the so-called Black Death or Bubonic plague first reached Europe from the East. By 1350, more than half the population of the continent had died. Over the next 20 years, the plague reduced the population of the civilized world by 75 percent! In 1918 an epidemic of influenza claimed more than 20,000,000 people worldwide: with more than 548,000 succumbing in the U.S. alone. In the 1940s and 50s, polio swept the world, leaving thousands crippled and maimed in its wake. Nearer to our times, cancers of the lungs, breast, skin, etc., continue to afflict and kill thousands while A.I.D.S. has yet to be completely understood and is far from being controlled. When these and so many other common ailments strike, one of the first reactions is to quarantine the sick so as to protect the healthy. Separated from rest of society, those held in quarantine suffer doubly, first from their illness and its terrors, and then from the isolation. In the ancient world, victims of leprosy knew all too well, this double dose of suffering!

It is a good idea to pay more attention than usual to the crucifix during Lent, maybe wearing a crucifix necklace, or using an image of the crucifixion as a screen saver.

The crucifix is a summary of this story of sin and salvation.

Christ's wounds are vivid images of sin, of what sin does to ourselves, the world, and our relationship with God.

But they are also vivid images of the intensity of his love for us: he suffered freely and willingly, to pay the price of our sins and give us hope for salvation.

An anecdote from the American Revolutionary War helps illustrate this.

* An important military message had to be sent through territory infested with the enemy - email wasn't available.

* A courageous corporal was chosen to accompany the messenger.

* They had not gone far when they drew fire from the enemy.

* The messenger was killed and the corporal severely wounded in the side, but he didn't abandon his mission.

* He grabbed the tightly wrapped dispatch from the dead messenger and rode on till he grew faint from loss of blood.

* Fearing the message would fall into the hands of the enemy, he squeezed the dispatch into the wound in his side until it closed around it.

* The next day, they found him with a smile on his lips, so weak he could not speak, but still able to point to the wound in his side.

* There they found the message.

* The surgeon who cared for him said that the wound itself was not fatal, but putting the paper into it caused his death.

The wounds of Christ contain a message for us, a message of love and sacrifice, a message of salvation from sin, a message of his unconditional and unfailing devotion to each one of us.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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