I'm in the sacristy of a neighbouring church waiting to celebrate a healing Mass in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes. There's the persistent and heart rending sound of a child crying coming from the church. It's not an ordinary cry; it's one of deep distress and somehow I recognize the sound of this child. I have heard this child before.
A woman comes to the sacristy to ask if it would be alright to bring the child for anointing after Mass had finished because she couldn't remain for the duration of the Mass. I said "why not bring her to the sacristy for the anointing now so that she doesn't have to wait."
They brought the little girl to me a few minutes later and of course I know her. We were together in Lourdes a couple of years ago. She's about five years old, is autistic and cannot speak. In retrospect I should have done the anointing outside becasue she has a fear of enclosed spaces and buildings.
Her distress continued in the sacristy but I remember we had a way of connecting in Lourdes, so I said "high five", and straight away our two palms met and I prayed with her in that way and anointed her.
What this child teaches me is the honesty and truth of her cry. There are no filters, no pretence. However difficult it may be for others to listen to her distress, for her this is the truth and it is expressed in all its purity.
As we are at the beginning of Lent and witness again the experience of Jesus in the desert. The version from Mark is quite stark, short and simple, "The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him"
The desert, and an authentic experience of Lent, is something we are driven to by the Holy Spirit. It is not something of our own making but, like so much of the work of the Spirit, it is done to us, as it was with Mary in the Annunciation, as it is with Jesus now and it will be done to Him again in the Agony.
Strangely, the Spirit drives Jesus to spend 40 days "with the wild beasts" who inhabited the place. He befriends the wild and the wild is not His enemy. The enemy is Satan with whom the real struggle happens. And the angels are there to look after Jesus throughout the struggle.
What is central to the desert experience of Lent is that it is a place of truth where there are no filters and no pretence but like the little girl in the church we are meant to cry out the truth that we are experiencing and not hide from it as we often do. And in crying out the truth we come to a personal, face to face encounter with Jesus who is Truth itself.
Truth sorts things out in a way that's necessary. God used Noah and the Ark to sort out the good from the bad; Jesus used the desert to sort out what God the Father wanted of him and to refuse the deception of Satan.
God always gives us Truth that ultimately sets us free, whereas Satan uses subtle deception, the immediacy of the feel-good factor which ultimately robs us of life. We are to choose which we want.
The other day I was reflecting on my plans for Lent and it was as if God were saying to me "all these things you give up (like chocolate) and all the things you take on are only worthwhile if they bring you to the point of wanting the Holy Spirit to drive you.
So now I'm asking the Spirit to drive me as Jesus was driven into the desert that I haven't chosen and remove from me all pretence; bring me to befriend the wild beasts that are inside me and above all bring me to a new and more complete experience of God for the sake of those whose lives I touch and for my own.