Life Lessons in a Lenten Wilderness

Fr. Bob Mosher
March 2, 2012

Bob Mosher

The streets in El Paso are pretty good for bicycling, if a person is after exercise and environmentally-responsible modes of transport. There are hills to climb, but also flat areas, a variety of routes to choose from. When either Fr. Bill Morton or I have meeting to attend, or sacraments to preside at, in another part of town, we take a close look at the distance to see whether we have the time and energy to bicycle there. It’s always an invigorating experience, especially in the colder months, as well as a choice to draw closer to people, as the chance to talk with people on the way is much more likely to happen on a bike than in a pickup.

The truck we share here among the three priests in El Paso—including Fr. Dennis O’Mara and Fr. Bill—seems to use up a lot of gas, so I feel good about bicycling around and imagining how much fossil fuel I’m not burning up. Sometimes I celebrate Mass or teach an evening class up at the University of Texas at El Paso, an uphill ride from here at the downtown Columban Mission Center. Even if I eventually walk the bike up for a few of the steepest blocks, it’s all good, healthy exercise and lowers my “carbon footprint” impact.

Lent is a great time to look at how we treat our planet, and make some new decisions in our lives. Jesus took forty days and nights to prepare for his public service of announcing Good News throughout his country, finding the desert rocks and lonely, windy areas of Palestine a place of closeness to his Father, in harmony with the Spirit.

It was a place where Jesus found clarity about his mission, and resisted the empty promises of easy consumerism and isolating positions of power. Exploiting nature to satisfy his hunger, Jesus realized, and bending the laws of the universe to impress people would betray his fundamental calling. Human beings today are learning a similar lesson.

As genetic engineering of plants important for human nourishment offers new temptations of mixing species and patenting genetic sequences for profit, even going so far as to make seeds infertile, forcing farmers to buy new seed from certain corporations, we are witnesses to the use of science to enrich a few, at the cost of greater poverty and a growing breach between nature and humanity.

“Man does not live on bread alone,” Jesus replied to the Tempter. Human beings thrive when acting in harmony with nature, not above it, and not just subjecting it to meet our physical needs, but to act according to our consciences, that inner voice where God moves us towards a fuller, morally good life.

A more respectful relationship with nature means observing closely its own rhythms of replenishment and acknowledging its limitations. Our connection with the rest of living creatures on our planet, the “biosphere” of plants and animals and micro-organisms, is stronger and more mutually sustaining when we recognize our dependence on them, and can gratefully regard both them and ourselves as members of a single, living family.

It takes living in a desert to clear our vision. Living and working in the arid Borderlands of El Paso, Texas, and just over the border in Juárez, Mexico, the Columban missioners, lay and consecrated, find ourselves in a year-long Lent of growth and renewal, close to God, to people and to the rhythms of wind and heat, dryness and nightly chill. Here we see more clearly what modes of social community and transport and sustainable lifestyles bring a strong sense of harmony with God’s will and our calling, with our fellow creatures of the biosphere and with the planet in general.


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