Wild Beasts and Angels


This piece is part of syndicated series in collaboration with Yale Logos for Lent 2021. You can read the original piece at https://www.yalelogos.com/home/wild-beasts-and-angels.

Many of the reflection pieces in this series have talked about the question: “What are you giving up for Lent?” It’s popped up in every piece because our humble offerings of things given up and the disturbance of routine in our ordinary lives are — by God’s grace — at the front and center of all our minds. It’s a divine thing that we are thinking about this together right now. Whether it’s giving up YouTube or sugary pastries or that extra caffeine, we’re collectively putting our wills to slaying those metaphorical golden calves, dying to ourselves in preparation for His death on the cross.

Lent, then, sometimes feels like a second chance at my (already) failed New Year Resolutions. I make a promise to God that this time I’m actually going to stick to it. I remind myself that Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days, and there’s no reason for my weak-willed cop outs. So, it really sucks — and frankly it has for many Lenten seasons now — when I fail, slip up, get tempted, skip a day, break a promise, and fall so far short of the person I promised the Lord I would be. Last year, I gave up Instagram for Lent. I made it through thirty days before I tripped up. Instead of bringing it to God, I let that shame push me away from him.

More recently, a friend recommended this wonderful podcast by Father Mike Schmitz called The Bible in A Year. The concept is simple — listen to one 20-25 minute episode a day, and you’ll make it through the Bible in 365 days! I was excited about making it my 2021 Resolution. It seemed simple enough to just pop in my earbuds and listen to God’s Word on the commute. But after the first week, it got harder to pay attention to everything that was being said. Some days, when I didn’t commute, I’d miss an episode. Playing catch-up got tiring, and as I’m writing this piece, I’m ten episodes behind. One day, Father Mike insightfully encapsulated my self-blaming struggle in a single sentence: “The hardest day to pray is the day after you don’t.” The slippery slope can be an unforgiving one when one day snowballs into ten.

Maybe you’ve never had an issue sticking to your Lenten commitments, or maybe you’re feeling the same nervous self-doubt as I am. Whatever your “performance history” with Lenten commitments are, I’ve been encouraged by Mark 1:12-13, and I hope it encourages you too:

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.”

Often, we attribute our moments of weakness with failure of will in the face of temptation. If I think about the world in such a dualistic way, I will perceive every forbidden Instagram session and every skipped bible podcast episode as an extra medal in the devil’s trophy cabinet (and I have!). But Mark tells us that God is never absent, even in our times of weakness and temptation. Where the wild beasts are, there angels stand guard.

Sister Anna Rose, in a beautiful reflection (“Remain in the Desert”) [1] on this Gospel, asks what I think is an important question, one that encourages us to engage in a perspectival shift: How can my moments of weakness be moments of opportunity for God? In the times we struggle most this Lent, may we see these moments of weakness not as personal failures or evil’s triumph, but invitations to “enter into greater trust and intimacy with Jesus” [2], to cry out to Him. It helps to remember that not only am I not doing this alone, I cannot do this alone. My Loving Father is there with me, fighting with me and for me. I can take my failures to Him, for it is through them that I enter into deeper dependency on Him, and where His glory can shine through.

Lent, after all, is a process of preparation as we await the Paschal Mystery. And that means we’re, quite simply, not prepared. But it also means we will continue to grow in strength, if we commit our hearts and minds to it, and above all, commit our efforts to the Lord. In this regard, we can look to Saint Paul as a model, who in 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10, relays a powerful message:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that is should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Sharmaine is a junior at Yale studying History. 

[1] Franciscan Sisters TOR. (2021, February 18). Remain in the Desert | First Week of Lent Reflection [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=vaYlWVTeJqI&t=606s

[2] Sister Anna Rose mentions this in 3:51 – 56 of the video.

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