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The Desert Mystics
The Desert Mystics

Testing in the Desert

Friday, March 3, 2023

At that time, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  
—Matthew 4:1 

In the Scriptures, the desert serves as a mythical place—externally and internally—of spiritual testing. In this homily, Richard talks about the temptations Jesus faced in his own desert experience:  

The Lenten season always begins with the same Gospel of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. He has gone into the desert for forty days for his own initiation, as it were, and this is a beautiful telling of the demons we all have to face to grow up, to become mature.  

The first two temptations are proceeded by the same phrase, “If you are the Son of God.” The primary temptation we all face is to doubt our Divine Identity. That’s what the evil one says to us, too: if you are a child of God. We can all think of a thousand reasons to condemn ourselves. The main temptation we have to overcome is the doubting of our identity. Once we doubt that, it’s all downhill from there. What made Jesus special, it seems, is that he never doubted he was God’s beloved son. 

The first temptation is to misuse power. Maybe we could say it’s a temptation to be spectacular, to be special, to be important, to be showy. The tempter says, “Tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3). When we’re young, we all want that. We all want to stand out. We want people to notice us. We want to be something special and to do something special, but Jesus refuses to play the game. 

Then a second temptation: “The devil took him to the Holy City and made him stand on the very pinnacle of the Temple” (Matthew 4:5), and tells Jesus to throw himself down. The second great temptation is to misuse religion by playing games with God. Jesus says, “I’m not going to play the religious game either.” It’s transactional religion as opposed to transformational. But what religion is about is real transformation. Changing our mind toward love, changing our heart toward community, changing our body toward living in the present moment.  

The third temptation is the temptation to political power. It’s not inherently wrong. There has to be a way we can use power for good. But until we’re tested, and until we don’t need it too much, we will almost always misuse it. If we’re not tested in the ways of power, very often we end up worshiping power to have power.  

What religion at its most mature level means is that there is one goal. There is one source. There is one focus. There is one meaning. It’s not about making more money. It’s not about being famous. It’s not about winning. What we were given in the Gospel is an agenda in which everybody wins. We’re all equally children of God.  


Adapted from Richard Rohr, “All Must Be Tested in Regard to Their Use of Power,” homily, March 1, 2020. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Jenna Keiper, Taos Snow. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 2, used with permission. Les Argonauts, Camino de Santiago, Unsplash. Click here to enlarge image

In the midst of thorns, the mystic watches, waits and receives. 

Story from Our Community:

On the wall of my bedroom, I have a piece of cardboard covered with quotes, sayings and prayers from mystics, poets and philosophers including Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Dr. Barbara Holmes, Howard Thurman, James Finley, John Duns Scotus among many others. Many of them, I have discovered through CAC, Fr. Richard, and the Daily Meditations. I read a few of them each day. I do practice contemplation and meditation, but I haven’t yet experienced the flash of insight or revelation of the spirit like these holy ones describe. Despite that, I persevere, listening for the small voice of God in the stillness and the dark. —Mark M. 

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