The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.
Welcome on this First Sunday in Lent. As many of you heard on Ash Wednesday, our theme for this Lent is struggle.
This Lent we will consider the stories of those who have struggled to the point of giving up on God and faith in Him. We will see in these stories moments where people may have given up for a time, and who, in the end, were fortified because of their struggle. We may not see these people ever overcoming their struggles, but still committed to overcoming.
Through these stories we will realize that our struggles are evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. The Holy Spirit moves in us and because of that we struggle against the things that separate us from Christ. We are not abandoned.
We hear of Jesus’ desert journey today. He fasts and is constantly tempted – the temptations did not just come at the end. The fast and journey were a struggle for Jesus, He did not just glide through it. He was spiritually and physically hungry and tired each day of the journey, beset by the same temptations we face in struggle – you’ll never make it, you’re not strong enough, give up. That is how we know He gets us, understands what we face, and why He gives us, through the Holy Spirit, the grace of perseverance.
I have printed and left for you the poem Ithaka by Constantine Cavafy. Please take it home and read it. Use it as an opportunity for prayer.
I first encountered this poem when it was read at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ funeral by her longtime companion, Maurice Tempelsman.
Ithaka describes the journey of Odysseus, and in turn each of journeys, to our homeland. For us that homeland is heaven.
In the poem we encounter a prolonged journey. Along the way the good things in our life are increased if we keep our eye on the goal, face the struggles head on, refuse to focus on the negative, refuse to hurry, and relish each day necessary to get there. Along the way we encounter the unknown – making new discoveries about ourselves.
Each of us has their struggles on the road to our Ithaka and in Lent. In the poem’s epigram we hear: “Keep Ithaka always in your mind. / Arriving there what you’re destined for.” Let us hear that as “Keep heaven always in your mind. / Arriving there what we are destined for.”
In the end, as the poem speaks, we will understand what the struggle and journey has meant.
C. P. Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.