The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert for forty days. It is there that he encountered Satan—Jesus did not avoid the devil or underestimate him, but he contended with him and wrestled with him. Jesus battled against evil. In that worst of places; in that harshest of environments; among wild beasts. He was not spared from the human situation, from temptation, from struggle. He confronted it all.
Today, our Church finds itself in the desert wrestling with evil. Our government has told our Church to include coverage in its health insurance for pills which either prevent conception or abort the newly-conceived human embryo. In the interest of providing what it describes as women’s reproductive services, it is trying to force our Church into violating its conscience by paying for these drugs and thereby participating in this evil. This issue has divided our Church and our nation by pitting those who are for religious liberty or support the teachings of our Church against those who support our governments’ definition of women’s health. And the media and many of our nation’s politicians would have us believe that this is an issue about contraception and the extent to which these teachings are or are not being followed. But it’s not. This is about religious liberty and the mandate to follow one’s conscience, either as an individual or as an organization.
Our bishops, the shepherds of the Church, find themselves in the middle of this controversy. They have courageously said that they will not comply with this mandate. Can our Church stand strong as it is being attacked? Will some Church leaders choose to go to jail rather than complying? What impact will this issue have on Church attendance and financial support?
And what about each of us? We find ourselves in the middle of this mess. Are we standing with our Church leaders in the desert? Do we believe that our government has the right to impose this mandate? Or are we indifferent and simply don’t care one way or the other?
During his time in the desert, Jesus became more detached from the things of day-to-day living. He was not intimidated by the devil. His time in the desert was a time of fulfillment as he prepared for his mission and a time of separation from the culture of the world.
When he emerged from the desert, Jesus proclaimed the good news by saying: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” He preached the kingdom of God to a world which was hungry for the truth. Jesus began his public ministry by teaching, healing, and eventually dying on the cross. His mission was a battle against the power of sin in the world. By separating himself for forty days in the desert, He detached himself from the things of earth so that he could better proclaim the heavenly kingdom. In the desert, Jesus met the devil and defeated him. He saw the devil’s tricks and remained faithful to his Father’s will. Jesus, with his death and resurrection, forever guaranteed his victory and his Church’s victory over the devil.
When our Church emerges from this time of testing, it will be better able to minister to our broken world. Our Church, and we as members, will always be foreigners in this secular world, for we are meant to be citizens of heaven. We are meant to contribute to our country in ways which don’t conflict with our loyalty to God. Our loyalty to the teachings of Christ and His Church should always take priority over our loyalty to our country or to any political party.
Like the season of Lent, our current time of testing is a blessing for us and for our Church. It encourages us to pray and to sacrifice not just for ourselves but for our Church and our nation. Our response to this threat will shape the future for our children and our grandchildren. Never before have we wondered what our country stands for as much as we do right now. Do we stand for religious liberty, support of life, and concern for the poor? Will this be marked as a moment in history when good men and women respond and redirect their nation toward God and His culture of life?
Our response should include calls and letters to our government leaders. But even more important is our response to our heavenly Father. If ever there were a time to rattle the gates of heaven with our prayers, now is that time. And there is no better time than this Lent to offer sacrifices to change the outcome of what is happening in our country. We can each make a profound difference.