“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days . . . He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” Mark 1: 12 – 13
How many of us have spent time in the desert? I know I have. That desert can take many different forms. It might be a diagnosis of cancer, or some incurable, progressive illness like Parkinson’s. It may be an addiction, or the dark night of depression, or the loss of a loved one. Whatever it is, our time in the desert is a time of very deep wounds.
We all experience the desert during our lifetime; some of us more than once. But God is with us in that desert. And in his great love, God sends angels to minister to us and help us get through it. Those angels are ordinary people. They don’t see themselves as angels, just people moved by compassion. And we, in turn, are called by God to be angels in the desert: to recognize and transform our own woundedness and become wounded healers for others.
I know a person who was a corporate executive. He spent years in the desert as a high-functioning alcoholic; but not high-functioning enough to save his marriage or his career. He eventually hit rock bottom and ended up in a homeless shelter.
Some angels from Alcoholics Anonymous helped him get through his desert. He’s been clean for 20 years and volunteers as a spiritual group leader in an addiction recovery program. My friend became an angel in the desert: he transformed his own woundedness and became a wounded healer for others.
Some years ago, I saw a story on CNN about a young man in Oregon who had lost both legs in a terrible accident. He went through many painful surgeries. While he was in his desert he was ministered to by an angel, a compassionate physical therapist who himself had survived Polio. As part of his therapy this young man learned to play basketball from his wheelchair. He later transformed his own wounds in a unique way: he reached out to handicapped, inner-city kids and taught them to play basketball. He built a team and later helped form a basketball league for special needs teenagers. This young man became an angel in the desert: he transformed his own woundedness and became a wounded healer for others.
When I was in my early twenties, I went through the dark night of depression. It lasted several months and was the most painful time of my life. While I was in that desert, I met an elderly priest who was an angel to me. He told me that when he was a young priest he too went through the dark night of depression. But through the grace of God, he had gotten through it and went on to build a joyful and productive priesthood. That angel inspired and encouraged me: he gave me a great gift – the gift of his own woundedness. It helped me get beyond my own desert and to go on to build a family, a career and eventually to follow Our Lord as a Catholic deacon. Over the years I have looked to pay it forward by reaching out to others who appeared to be going through dark times, and by volunteering as a hospital chaplain for our sisters and brothers who suffer with depression, anxiety and addiction.
As we journey through life, we all spend time in the desert. We are all wounded. Whether it’s illness, grief, depression, addiction or whatever. But in those deserts, we have been graced by God and ministered to by his angels; if that weren’t true, it’s unlikely that we would be coming to Mass.
Let us use these days to reflect on our own time in the desert. And let us resolve to use our own experience – our own woundedness – to be angels in the desert for others.
What are your wounds, and where are you being called to minister and to bring healing?
With love, Deacon Lex