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The Desert Experience
by Bishop Joseph  McKinney

           My favorite story about what the grace of Pentecost does for us is the story of the American soldier who stopped at a bakery in Seoul, Korea, to buy some goodies.   He parked his jeep in front of the bakery and noticed a little girl in rags looking with big eyes through the window. When he finished with his order he bought an extra bag of sweets, and as he walked out to his jeep he stopped to give them to her.  The girl’s eyes opened wide with joy and she said, “Mister, are you God?” He smiled and said, “No, I’m not God but I’m God’s son!”

What a magnificent answer! When we have the joyful assurance of Pentecost, we know in our heart of hearts that we are God’s children. It is a special source of joy when another mentions that he detects something of God’s goodness in us. “Make me a channel of your peace!” We are all destined to be vessels of God’s love.

May each of us have the joyful assurance of saying each day, “I’m God’s son!” or “I’m God’s daughter!” It’s even better when someone else can detect that Jesus is great in us.

The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River is an epiphany, a manifestation of who Jesus is. It is given for our sake. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” is a manifestation of the grace of Baptism when we become pleasing to God as his daughters and sons. “Listen to Him” points to the grace of Confirmation when God perpetuates the grace of Pentecost. St. Luke adds an insight that I find very valuable. The Holy Spirit filled Jesus. That is what the grace of Pentecost can do for us.  Jesus went into the desert for forty days of prayer and then began his life’s work of building the kingdom of God. Is there a message here?  Yes there is and I believe it is the message of prayer. We need to have quality time with our God—the quality time that comes from prayer.  If the grace of Pentecost is going to impact our life, we too need desert time.

The forty days is not so important as the desert time. The desert for us is where we go to get away from the distractions and humdrum activities that preoccupy us. We need to be alone with God. At this stage of my life, I consider at least twenty minutes of desert time each day as part of my survival kit. To omit it is like going without food or a night’s sleep. I believe that something is missing from life if there is no desert time. This is the time to be alone with God.

The best tip I ever heard about desert time came when I sought the help of a priest because I had overworked and was not able to rest. His words were, “Relax, relax, relax. We Americans don’t know how to relax. We always have to be doing something. You need to bathe in God’s love the way that sunbathers bathe in the sun. Just be still and soak in God’s love.” Prayer is not manufacturing words; it is being conscious of God’s presence.

The more we can soak in His love, the more we can live in the power of Pentecost. Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit energizing the human spirit the way the sun energizes the earth. Like the leaf of plant presenting itself to the sun, we have to present ourselves to the Holy Spirit.

The most intense happiness I’ve ever experienced was during a desert experience at prayer. I was making a thirty-day retreat, and for my prayer hour I was asked to put myself in the scene when Jesus was baptized. I found myself asking Jesus what it is like to hear the Father say, “You are my beloved son, on whom my favor rests.” What a wonder it must be to know that someone is a favorite of God. “What’s it like, Jesus?”

I was overcome with joy when Jesus made it clear to me that it is the Good News he has for me. Yet I never accepted it!

When I was young, I felt as if I was not good enough for God to make me one of his favorites. Yet, during that desert experience, Jesus clearly told me that all my life God was trying to tell me that I was. I just wasn’t listening. On that desert experience, I stopped a moment to accept it and was flooded with awe and wonder. I wished I could freeze that moment of absolute delight that I felt in that moment at prayer. “Heaven must be like that feeling,” I thought. It was then that I decided that “I am God’s son” and I will not let anyone take that away from me. Joyful assurance came.  Isn’t it time you gave yourself a desert experience?

Bishop Joseph C. McKinney, retired Bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, was a popular speaker at our 1999 Holy Spirit Conference.  He is the former Chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

 
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