In the Desert, Through the Darkness and Storm

No one wants to be lost. No one wants to be isolated and left alone. No one likes to be in the desert. No one would like to choose to be abandoned in their right mind. Yet, these scenarios are often the hurtful parts that life gives to us. Not every day is going to be like walking on the golden road or rosy path. Not everyone will have what they want. In spite of our desires to create and nurture a more utopian and just society, our world is often unjust and full of hurts. While all of us want to have things right, many times, we end up in the desert, walking through the darkness of night and braving the batters of the storm of life.

Yet, just as the weather changes according to natural movements in the atmosphere and beneath our ground with the tectonic plates, our spiritual life also has its own ups and downs. Sometimes, these changes are caused by us our own decisions. Other times, it is because of other people’s actions that affected us. Also in some cases, God wants to use the given situations to test and invite us toward deeper faith and trust in Him. We can go into details why and how could things happened the ways they, but that would take many pages to be written, but one thing that can be sure, that these things do occur naturally and spiritually. As human beings, it is hard not to hurt other people, even when we intentionally try to avoid all negativities. The differences in personalities naturally cause frictions and conflicts, both intentionally or unintentionally. Our humanity is imperfect and to get hurt by others, to go through trials, or to suffer in one way or another is a natural part of life.

The Book of Ecclesiastes refer to this organic part of life with its portrayal of the different times for everything:

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” (3:1-8)

While we would like to control and know everything, life is a mystery to embrace a lot of times. The more we think about it, the more we will realize that many things are beyond our control. Even with our best technological, psychological, and medical advances, we cannot control or have everything our way. Sometimes, we just have to accept that life and humanity are imperfect, and we all have been broken since the Fall. That is why, even with our best intentions to have everything well planned and rosily pictured, there will be times that we are led into the desert, through the darkness and storms of life.

Yet, even in our darkest and trying hours, we are never alone. In the silence of the desert and its sandstorms and darkness of the night, we are invited to use the time to reflect upon who we truly are without the unnecessary noises and distractions of life. The silence is very scary at first, and many will not choose to embrace it; but without silence, we cannot have the time to really reflect and meditate on deeper things. As post-modern people, we are constantly bombarded with noises — even by the ones that our ears cannot pick up when we are somewhat silent. Yet, all of the saints have told us the necessity and importance of silence as we choose to go into the desert to face our own fears, to listen to God, and be in tune with what our souls are crying out for. We are often scared of the silence and the desert because we are not in control and are left without anything to distract us from listening to the deeper callings and yearning of our souls. We often reacted and denied the necessity of going into the desert of nothingness and the silence of our souls because we are scared of truly finding out who we truly are instead of who we want to control and have our lives to be.

Yet, there is a time for everything, and not every moment will be as we have expected. Perhaps those moments are invitations for us to truly respond, open up, and embrace everything that is given by grace with a sense of childlike wonder and awe. It is important that we do not try to control everything, (else we will become very hurt and resentful when things do not go our ways), but to learn to appreciate and be grateful for what is given to us by His divine providence. The desert, its darkness, and storms are not scary if we seek and trust in God’s divine providence and presence in the midst of the present events. Even though they might seem testing and hard to take at first, they are life-giving if and when we trust, look for, and abandon ourselves to the transformative grace of the life-giving God.

Cardinal Francis Xavier Thuan Van Nguyen, the former (Coadjutor) Archbishop of Saigon, a political prisoner by the Vietnamese communists for more than 13 years, and the President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said in his “The Road of Hope” book:

“In a solemn pilgrimage with thousands of people, everyone wants to carry the cross at the head of the procession. But in the pilgrimage of our daily lives, how many people are prepared to carry their own crosses? Indeed, it is difficult to be an unsung hero.”

He was recently declared as a Servant of God by the Holy Father, which the Church initially recognized His heroic and saintly virtues and holy life. This is a great step that moves him closer to being proclaimed a saint in the Church. Throughout his life, the Cardinal and Servant of God went through a lot of trials. He lost everything and was exiled from his own motherland, Viet Nam, by the communist after many years of imprisonment and house arrest. Yet, he believed and trusted in God throughout it all. In prison, he celebrated Mass from memory, with a small host fragment, two drops of wine (all smuggled in by family and friends) mixed with water. The Lord became His hope when he had lost everything as well as His example of forgiveness as He learned to forgive and love those who mistreated Him. In prison, he wrote the simple book “The Road of Hope” as a way to share and strengthen the faith of his people who were so far away yet very close to his heart.

Many stories of the saints are like the Cardinal and Servant of God Francis Xavier Thuan Van Nguyen. Their stories are filled with many trials, storms, and darkness of life, yet they persevered, sought, and loved God in the midst of their sufferings. They are proclaimed saints, not because they are successful in human terms, but because they love the Lord radically and wholeheartedly. Therefore, even in our darkest, isolated, or most trying times in life, we know that we are not alone. In the darkness of the night, we see the presence of many stars and the moon. In Catholic spirituality, we are taught that the stars are the light of the saints, radiating their life examples and love at night for us pilgrims who are walking in our own trials. The moon is the symbol of the Blessed Mother who reflects the light, not of her own, but from the Sun of Justice, her Son — Jesus Christ — to us who are in the midst of life’s storms. Therefore, we are not alone. We are never alone for we believe in the communion of the saints who are always with us along the way.

Let us not be afraid of the desert and our occasional trying opportunities in darkness and stormy weather. We are not alone. The Lord is with us. Let us trust and carry our cross daily to follow Him. Just as He chose to hang on the Cross for the love of us, may we learn to die to ourselves and embrace our cross for the love of Him. May we give Him our whole heart as we trust, seek, and love Him in the midst of everything that happens in our lives. May God be praised and loved in and through the different times of our life and faith journey.