By Lilibeth Sabado
Since March 15, 2020 when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown (referred to as community quarantine in the Philippines), attending virtual masses has been our source of strength to cope with the difficult time of pandemic. A regular Sunday virtual mass organized by the “Amigo Columbano” had become our ‘virtual’ parish. Gladly, there were two occasions when we were able to receive communion sacramentally. The first was on November 23 during St. Columban’s Day and the second during Gaudete Sunday where Fr. Kwon Taemoon came to the LM house to celebrate mass with us which was live streamed via zoom for the virtual parishioners who are mainly members of Amigo Columbano and their families. Taemoon reminded us in his homily to stay in the desert within us, and look at it with love and tenderness. Sharing with you Kwon Taemoon’s homily on Gaudete Sunday.
Three years ago, in 2018, I went to Israel on pilgrimage with my parents as a way of celebrating my mother’s 70th birthday. We really had a great time together as we followed in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples. On the third day of the pilgrimage, our travel guide brought us to the desert where Jesus was tempted. I was really shocked at the image I saw: it was so barren. It was an image of danger, of hunger, of thirst, of nothingness, of powerlessness and of helplessness. But these images of a barren desert have become very reflective in my spiritual journey.
Today’s gospel describes John the Baptist, he came to testify to the light so that all might believe through him. John identified himself as “the voice of one crying out in the desert”. He intentionally went to the desert where he was waiting for poverty, helplessness, and danger similar to the images of the desert I saw. It can mean that he truly lived the value of the Gospel, which is about walking in the way of God, rather than one’s own way. His finger always pointed to God and not towards himself.
I deeply sensed this, after I reflected on the image of the desert in Israel, which shows the difficulties of expecting a quality life for one’s self. Therefore, these images of desert clearly show the values John followed and lived out. That is why we affirm John the Baptist as the true one who was fervently living out the Scripture.
Referring to this reflection, I would like to connect the image of the desert I reflected upon with my own personal journey. When I reflect on myself at a deeper level, I would meet my own desert in the experience of vulnerability, challenges, helplessness, shame, and weakness. I find it very difficult to face and accept them because I feel safer with my own strengths and knowledge.
In this process, I know that if I keep on ignoring my desert within, I won’t meet the whole humanity of myself. Instead, I would live out only half of myself. But if I look at my desert within, a dialogue with the true myself is possible. And it helps me to be grounded with an integrated self like John the Baptist could testify to the true God by being in the desert.
In this sense, the true meaning of embracing my own desert is; in other words, to fully accept our own weakness and vulnerability leading us to experience the fullness of joy and happiness in each of us. On the other hand, to ignore and to avoid our own desert hinders us from experiencing a real sense of joy and happiness as well.
In conclusion, I invite you to stay in the desert within you, then identify what images you see there, and talk to them with love and tenderness. I believe it is crucial to our spiritual journey because integration helps us to meet our true self, leading us to meet God who created us, and enabling us to live out the Gospel like John the Baptist. Stay with your own desert while remembering the life of John the Baptist.